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Acting Socialism: Political Plays in The Ohel during the 1930's

Mon, December 17, 3:00 to 4:30pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Amphitheater


The Ohel theatre was founded in Tel Aviv in 1925, as a dramatic studio of the Histadrut, the Eretz Israeli Worker's Organization. The affiliation of the Ohel to the Histodrut was meaningful to Moshe Halevi, the founder of the Ohel and its authoritative artistic director, because it marked the theatrical enterprise of the Ohel as part of the pioneering Socialist nation building led by the Histadrut. During the 1930's the Ohel was a stable and productive theatrical organization, one of the three repertory theatres of the Yishuv. Representatives of the Histadrut, including Berl Katzenelson, were involved in the management of the theatre, and the company members identified with the political agenda of the Histadrut.
In this article I would like to investigate how the affinity of the Ohel to the Histadrut influenced the shaping of the theatre's Socialist-theatrical imagination during the 1930's. I would like to look at repertoire and stage poetics of plays put on during that time, that were associated with both Jewish and world Socialism. Despite the dominancy of plays translated from Yiddish in the theatres of the Yishuv, the Ohel performed only scarcely plays written by authors associated with Yiddish-Eastern European socialism. The play Rekhayim (Milestones), based on Dovid Bergelson's Der Toyber (the Deaf) caused a real scandal. As opposed to that tendency, plays written and performed by Socialist authors in Central Europe, that had no reference to Jewish issues, such as Bertold Brecht's The -Threepenny Opera or Ferenc Molnar's Liliom, gained outstanding success. These productions portrayed the landscapes of the central European megapolis and delineated erotic images of its underworld and criminals. Doing that, these socialist images nurtured the desire of the Eretz-Israeli inhabitants to great urban centers outside of Eretz-Israel and subverted under the Eretz-Israeli agricultural Socialist agenda of the Histadrut.