Winter 2001-02

Commedia dell’Arte


Third-year acting students in the Department of Theater performed a late Italian Renaissance comedy brought up to date to the Israeli context and mediated by two Americans from the famous San Francisco Mime Troupe, which has been active since the turbulent 1960s, Joan Holden and Dan Chumley. It was the first attempt by an Israeli university theater department to perform commedia dell’arte, a style that employs stock characters (“masks”) to satirize society.

“Love and War,” written 250 years ago and never before seen on an Israeli stage, had been a perfect vehicle for the San Francisco troupe to sharply attack the war in Vietnam in 1967.  Holden and Chumley came to Israel five weeks before the production to adapt their revival to the Israeli scene and to train the students in the particular acting style demanded.  Holden found that some of the lines she had written more than thirty years ago still held true today. “Certain lines said by characters in the ’67 play,” she recalled in a pre-performance colloquium, “have been said by leaders of the coalition [in the war against the Taliban] and certain Israeli leaders.  September 11 [the Twin Towers attack] made the play timely for me.”  The students themselves helped her with the adaptation, to make it more broadly as well as locally targeted. “It was,” the American summed up, “the right time for us to be here to do this play.”

She thought the eight young Israelis in the cast to have done “a remarkable job.”  This was especially so because of cross casting: the 2 males/6 females ratio of the cast should have been the opposite of what it was.  Nevertheless, she had “found a cast to fit the characters.” They were already like an ensemble, Holden remarked in admiration.

Ironically the current production of this anti-war, perhaps anti-government play was that it was being financed in part by a grant from the U. S. Embassy.




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