Israel’s acclaimed Gesher Theatre returns to New York in early October, under the auspices of the Cherry Orchard Festival, with two productions: The Dybbuk and In the Tunnel. The Gesher Theatre begins its New York City engagement at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College (524 West 59 Street) with a new production inspired by The Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds by S. Ansky in a modern version written by Roy Chen, Gesher Theatre chief dramaturge. The Dybbuk, written in 1913 and arguably the most iconic play of the entire canon of Jewish drama, tells the story of a young Hasidic woman who became possessed on the eve of her wedding by the dead spirit of her beloved, a young scholar whom her parents forbade her to marry. Gesher Artistic Director Yevgeny Arye directs the cast of 25. There will be two performances, October 3 and 4 at 8 PM.
The Dybbuk will be followed by the political satire In the Tunnel, also by Mr. Chen, inspired by the Best Foreign Language Oscar-winning film No Man’s Land by Danis Tanovic. In this production, the audience will get to vote on the ending of the play. Firas Nassar, who been gaining much recent attention in the hit Israeli Netflix series Fauda, is featured. Two Israeli soldiers and two Palestinians are trapped in a tunnel dug by Hamas between Gaza and Israel. Enemies snared in a mousetrap, they try to find their way out. Should they kill or save each other? Meanwhile, above ground, a political and media circus is attempting to capture and cover the event. The cast of nine is directed by Irad Rubenstein. There will be two performances, October 6 at 8 PM and October 7 at 2 PM.
The Dybbuk and In the Tunnel will be performed in Hebrew with English and Russian supertitles.
Gesher Theatre was founded in 1991 by director Yevgeny Arye and a troupe of Russian actors, who in pursuit of artistic freedom, immigrated to Israel from Moscow. In its early days, the theatre served as one of the few bilingual theatres in the world, staging every play both in Hebrew and in Russian. Today, Gesher Theatre performs solely in Hebrew, while still maintaining its close ties with the Russian culture and heritage. In 27 years of existence, Gesher Theatre has created more than 100 theatre productions which have won numerous awards and appeared on the world’s most prominent stages and festivals. As befits its name, which means “bridge” in Hebrew, Gesher Theatre sees its goal as being a source of integration in Israel multicultural society, promoting new generations of young theatre artists and presenting a repertoire composed of world classics alongside well-known texts from Jewish literature.
TV and City was privileged to interview Roy Chen who, as noted above, wrote both plays being performed. Roy is an author, playwright, and translator. Since 2007 he has headed the Drama Department of Gesher Theatre. He has published two books: The Ink Horses (2005), and Tel Aviv Tales (2011). He has translated prose, classic fiction novels, and over 40 plays from Russian, French, and English into Hebrew (including Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Bunin, Gogol, Kharms, and Moliere), and represented Israel in book fairs in Frankfurt, Moscow, and Lvov.
How did you come to learn so many languages? Where are you originally from?
I was born in Tel Aviv and my parents were too. On my father’s side I am what is called pure Sephardic, this side came to Israel after the expulsion from Spain. On my mother’s side they emigrated from Morocco. I studied autodidactically in Russian and today I translate Dostoevsky and Pushkin. I also learned French and Italian on my own.
For me, learning a language is to gain another life.
How did you decide to do translation of plays? How did you begin to work for Gesher?
I began to translate simply to understand what I was reading. I arrived at Gesher at the age of 19 as a Hebrew teacher for actors of Russian origin.
The two plays being performed in New York are so different. Do you have a preference in the type of work you like to do: adaptations of classic works versus more modern stories?
I do not have a preference, but this is a process that I went through. For years I was an escapist and loved adult legends. The Dybbuk was born of the desire to psychologically beat a mystical myth. In the last few years I have been burning to talk about the situation in Israel, so In The Tunnel was born.
When you translate, do you aim to stay closest to the original text or do you utilize common forms of speech/colloquialisms from the language you are translating into?
Translation is always a struggle between form and content. They say that reading a translation is like “kissing through a handkerchief.” I try to translate so that the audience feels my lips…
Did you do the supertitles for these plays? (If not, who did?)
I did not do the supertitles. Those are done by the artistic department at Gesher.
If In the Tunnel has been performed before in various places, have you been surprised at all by audience voting trends? Do you notice anything about how different audiences respond to the work?
In The Tunnel is a hit for Gesher. We have performed it all over the country and tens of thousands of people have seen it. Once someone gets upset I realize I’ve done something right. On the one hand, it was important for me to maintain balance and not write a play that leaned to the right or the left. To make the satire exact, I attack everyone, the right, the left, the IDF and Hamas. Especially the politicians and the media who sometimes enjoy pouring fuel to the fire at a price that is too high.
I hope that the American audience will see these two shows as an opportunity to take a peek at life in Israel, not through a news broadcast. Through The Dybbuk – a modern Jewish tale that puts the woman in the center and tells of an unattainable love bordering on life and death. In The Tunnel is a play that tries to understand in real time whether there is light at the end of the tunnel. There’s action, crazy humor without apology, at the expense of everyone, and an exciting drama.