BENGHAZI BERGEN-BELSEN, Based on the Novel by Yossi Sucary, Coming to La MaMa
An epic romance retrieves from oblivion the lost story of the Holocaust of Libyan Jews in "Benghazi Bergen-Belsen," a play by Lahav Timor that is inspired by the Brenner Prize-winning 2016 novel of the same name by Yossi Sucary, the first book about Jews in World War II Libya. The play is translated from Hebrew by Inbal Timor and directed by Michal Gamily. La MaMa Theatre will present its world premiere run March 23 to April 9 in its Downstairs Theater, 66 East Fourth Street, Manhattan (East Village).
Set in 1941-45, when the Nazi holocaust turned onto the Jews of Libya, the play gives voice to an aspect that is conspicuously absent from prevalent stories of the Jewish Holocaust. By citing the marginalized racial politics of the Holocaust, the show urges a reconsidering of both historical and contemporary religious, cultural, and racial oppression and violence. It does this with a contemporary approach and a uniquely multicultural cast (of Israeli, Palestinian, Moroccan and Italian origins). The original score--beyond place, space and time--is by Avi Belleli, whose work is seen worldwide in dance, theater, film and TV. He is composer of HBO's "In Treatment." Lighting design is by Avi Yona Bueno ("Bambi"), one of Israel's most prominent lighting designers, who is renowned for his work with Batsheva Dance Company.
"Benghazi Bergen-Belsen" is narrated in the voice of Silvana Hajaj, an ambitious young Jewish feminist from Benghazi, Libya. Silvana is transported with her family to the Bergen-Belsen, Germany concentration camp. There, she meets Rebecca, a young Dutch Jew, and the play tracks their encounter which is layered with cultural and sexual tensions. After being caught stealing water, Silvana and Rebecca are locked in a shack where they must decide - within an hour - which one of them shall be executed. Rebecca asks Silvana to tell her to use her last minutes to tell her a story, the story of her family from Benghazi in North Africa to Bergen-Belsen, in the heart of Germany. The frame of the show is this hour in which they must make a decision: it goes back and forth to Silvana's memories of the journey from Benghazi and Tripoli through Italy to Germany and Bergen-Belsen. Tensions between Silvana and Rebecca culminate in a compelling experience, intricate and laden with lust, dreams, fears, and questions of femininity.
The multicultural cast is led by Mohammad Bakri, who plays Silvana's father--the head of a Jewish family. Bakri is an Arab/Palestinian actor from Israel who is also known for his starring role on "The Night Of," John Turturro's HBO miniseries based on the BBC series "Criminal Justice," created by Peter Moffat. The ensemble also includes Lily Leah Azrielant (Israel/USA),Veracity Butcher (Morocco/USA), Michal Gamily (Israel/USA), Ayelet Kaznelson (Israel/USA), Giacomo Rocchini (Italy/USA), Mouna R'miki (Morocco/France) and Vincent Santvoord (USA). Stage Manager is Karen Oughtred (Australia/USA) and Production Assistant is Maya Bitan (Israel/USA).
The plight of Libyan Holocaust victims is sure to bring to mind parallels with Syrian refugees of today and the loss of homeland which is widely seen in today's global refugee crisis. To emphasize the timelessness of these themes, the play will be staged without obvious references to the World War II Holocaust: there will be no striped uniforms, yellow stars, swastikas or Nazis in uniform. Rather than reconstruct the past, the scenic and costume design express contemporary society's continuing role in a long tradition of cultural repression and oppression.
As opposed to telling the story in a single language and uncontested voice, this performance literally speaks in several languages: English, Arabic, Italian, Hebrew and German. This offers a multiplicity of cultural and individual inflections and perspectives on the same historical phenomenon.
An onstage commentator/translator, played by Michal Gamily, will preside over the show, moving lights and translating as needed.
The play and the project were conceived by Lahav Timor. Costume design is by Angela Wendt (of Broadway's "Rent"). Set design is by Gianmarco Lo Forte.
The novel by Yossi Sucary brilliantly depicts the transformations and tribulations this intriguing community has undergone during the Second World War. The novel won the Brenner Prize and has been acclaimed for its role in dispelling denial about the Libyan Holocaust, so much so that the novel was chosen by the Israeli Ministry of Education to be included in the Holocaust studies program for high school students.
Novelist Yossi Sucary will appear at a talk-back following the performance on March 26 moderated by Alisa Solomon, the veteran theater critic, current director of the Arts & Culture concentration of Columbia Journalism School and winner of the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism.
Aside from marketing the play to standard New York audiences, La MaMa will endeavor to attract younger audiences and high school groups. Theater can be a powerfully uplifting influence on developing minds. It is hoped that by exposing young people to this stage adaptation of Yossi Sucary's book, they will be inspired to read the novel, to explore related Holocaust issues and history, and to examine the story's meaning in their own lives. For group sales, contact John Issendorf at La MaMa, firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-254-6468. Although the play is not specifically designed for younger audiences, the producers recommend it for audiences age 14 and up.
WHERE AND WHEN:
March 23 to April 9, 2017
La MaMa Theatre (Downstairs Theatre), 66 East Fourth Street
Presented by La MaMa
Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM.
$25 general admission; $20 seniors & students. Ten $10 tickets will be available to every performance on a first-come, first-served basis (advance sale recommended).
Box office (646) 430-5374, www.lamama.org
Running time: One hour. Critics are invited on or after Saturday, March 25.
Michal Gamily (Producer/Director), founder of NoVisa Productions, is an Israeli-born activist (and draft resister), producer, and director. For the past 20 years, she has been a member of the LaMaMa family as an actress, producer and archivist. She produced La MaMa's Contemporary Israeli Dance Festival. Together with Aïda Croal, she has created several shows including the psychotherapy-based project, "We Have to Stop Now." Since 2013, she has been Series Director of the Coffeehouse Chronicles at La MaMa. She produced the series' recent 50th year anniversary commemoration of the musical "Hair."
Lahav Timor (Playwright and Concept) is an Israeli theater director, playwright and teacher. He started his theatrical practice working with populations-at-risk in Jerusalem and Sderot. His directing works engage in powerful encounters between two peoples and examine the disintegration of human identity. They include "Ashes to Ashes" by Harold Pinter at the Jaffa Theatre and "See Under: Love" by David Grossman at HaSifriya Theatre.
Angela Wendt (Costume Design) is the original costume designer of "Rent," for which she received several awards and nominations. In 2015, she brought "Rent" to Cuba, the first American musical to be performed there since 57 years. She is also a prolific designer in film.
Gian Marco La Forte (Set Design) is an artist-in-residence at La MaMa where he founded Pioneers Go East Collective, which has developed hybrid transmedia projects with music and poetry. He is in residence with Great Jones Rep and has designed at Biennale di Venezia and toured in Europe.
Avi Belleli (composer) is an award-winning Israeli score and soundtrack composer and rock musician. Belleli has composed for Batsheva Dance Theater and TV series and is well known as the leader of the Nikmat Hatraktor rock band, which has produced eight albums.
Avi Yona Bueno ("Bambi") (Lighting Design) has designed for Roger Waters, the Cure, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Paris Opera, Batsheva, and for extravagant Israeli open-air opera productions at the foot of Masada.
This production is sponsored, in part, by The Libyan Jews Heritage Center of Israel, The Barbara Bel Cumming Foundation and other individual donors.
La MaMa is dedicated to the artist and all aspects of the theater. The organization has a worldwide reputation for producing daring performance works that defy form and transcend barriers of ethnic and cultural identity. Founded in 1961 by award-winning theatre pioneer Ellen Stewart, La MaMa has presented more than 5,000 productions by 150,000 artists from more than 70 nations. A recipient of more than 30 Obie Awards and dozens of Drama Desk, Bessie, and Villager Awards, La MaMa has helped launch the careers of countless artists, many of whom have made important contributions to American and international arts milieus.
La MaMa's 55th season celebrates the creative and collective histories of La MaMa's local and global communities. Since its beginning, La MaMa has forged creative partnerships with artists based in different parts of the U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. In recent years, these long-term relationships have taken on new life through distance collaborations over the Internet. The 55th season embraces new pathways forged in performance and technology to connect the myriad experiences, politics, conflicts, aesthetics, intimacies and dreams of people and communities participating in an increasingly globalized world.
Pictured: Michal Gamily, Mouna R'miki, Giacomo Rocchini, Veracity Butcher, Ayelet Kaznelson, Lili Leah Azrielant. Photo by Jonathan Slaff.