Gefen Baladi (Native Vine)

Amnon Levi and Rami Danon
Cameri Theatre, Tel Aviv

Production photo

"Nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war anymore. But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree"
(Micah: chapter 4, verse iv).

The title's two words join comfortably and make sense despite the fact that each word is in a different language. Gefen in Hebrew means vine and Baladi in Arabic means my city, my homeland.

The plot embraces two worlds - Israeli and Arab, employers and employees. Join them somewhere in the Negev and they form a new family unit of almost perfect co-existence. However, once outside forces encroach into that contented close unit, the equilibrium is rapidly lost, leaving a dismembered reality where tragedy and inevitable alienation triumph.

Jewish and Arab actors perform together in this production. A childless couple, Saul Berger (Gil Frank) and his wife Tamar (Shiri Golan), own a restaurant and a vineyard. Saul is dreaming of perfecting a type of vine that he believes was cultivated in the region during the Second Temple era. He and his loyal worker, Ramzi, played by Shredy Jabarin, spent years perfecting the grape they believe was native to this part of the world. Unfortunately he is not able to translate his enthusiasm and efforts into fiscal success which in turn causes domestic friction.

Tamar manages the restaurant. She has her feet firmly on the ground. Abbas, the chef they employ, superbly played by Itzik Cohen, is from a nearby Arab village. He and Saul have been together for many years. Saul proudly recalls how some eighteen years ago he taught Walid, Abbas' eldest son, his first steps. Walid, movingly performed by Dured Liddawi, the mature unemployed teenager, has now drifted into the arms of the Muslim fundamentalists, the Jihadis. His father's desperate attempts to draw him away from them are one of the most touching episodes in this drama.

The cheerful opening, with the wine song from Verdi's La Traviata, introduces Saul, who is sitting happily in the midst of a green circle of vines, sharing his dreams with Ramzi. The drama evolves into a gradual reality where cracks in the marriage overlay fissures generated by the materialist Tamar and by outside political forces. The world that unravels here touches a raw nerve in the Israeli-Arab conflict. Questions of individual and collective identity, illegal workers, suicide bombers and a profound aspiration for coexistence dominate the lives of our protagonists. There are allegorical elements in this play. The vine, a symbol of pastoral and peaceful existence, dries out. It is the cause of the economic loss, the rift between Ramzi and Abbas and eventual break-up of the existing 'family unit'.

Saul is infertile, driving Tamar to resort to artificial insemination. He cannot himself bring about continuity on the land, just like his futile attempts to grow ancestral-native vine.

Cohen's superlative performance successfully teased the humour from the dialogues, dispelling some of the gloom. Golan's performance was rather wooden. Miki Ben K'naan's set and costumes are very effective in their simplicity.

The play is thought-provoking and should provide yet another mirror to an important aspect of the socio-political reality in Israel.

Reviewer: Rivka Jacobson

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