THE MERCHANT OF VANICE: THE TRIAL

In 1936, the Hebrew theatre "HaBima" put itself on trial. Following its production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, an outcry arose in the emerging Jewish community in Israel/Palestine. In days of building a new “Jewish identity,” and in light of the violent events of the time, the Jewish public objected the production of a play they viewed as anti-Semitic, depicting a vindictive, violent and degraded Jewish moneylender. Public representatives called for the production to be canceled. In response, members of “HaBima” staged a mock trial performance on the theatre stage, in which three accomplices were accused: William Shakespeare for writing the play, “HaBima” theatre for giving it a stage and the director Leopold Jessner for his interpretation of the play. Through simulating the legal syntax, the protocols of that event incite a profound discourse on matters of performance, justice, truth and freedom of expression – all in light of theatre’s cultural and political role and responsibility in society.

 

The protocols of that mock trial were kept by the Israeli Theatre Archives, and were adapted into an hour-long dramatic reading, presented at Social Bauhaus festival in Haifa, in light of political attacks on the artistic freedom of Speech by the Minister of Culture. Adopting tools of Brechtian Verfremdung, the performance highlighted two central theatrical aspects. First, by the mere act of narrating a documentary legal text of a past event, we are able to echo deep social undercurrents still largely relevant over 80 years later. Second, while all the figures in the protocols – the judge, the attorneys, the witnesses, the accused – which were all male, they were interchangeably played by three actresses, demanding the audience to simultaneously and consciously criticize their actions and arguments.

Adaptation and Dramaturgy: Kfir Lapid-Mashall
Director: Yuval Zehavi
Actors: Masha Shmulian, Ya'ara Lokitz, Aurelle Maor

The staged reading which took place at Social Bauhaus festival in Haifa, on the closing day of Noam Toran's solo exhibition, "A Bright Meteor Will Shine the Path of the Worker", November 30, 2019.

Teaser, edited by Yuval Zehavi: