A Greek tragedy comes to life

The casting of young Israeli and Ethiopian Jews and Palestinian actors in ‘Mythos’ only underscores its timely and universal message.An Israeli play has been chosen to open the prestigious Lincoln Center Festival in New York City this summer. Mythos, directed …

The casting of young Israeli and Ethiopian Jews and Palestinian actors in ‘Mythos’ only underscores its timely and universal message.An Israeli play has been chosen to open the prestigious Lincoln Center Festival in New York City this summer.

Mythos, directed by Rina Yerushalmi, one of Israel’s most respected and innovative directors, and featuring the Itim Ensemble, in affiliation with the Cameri Theater, is based on Greek mythology and depicts a royal family struggle, with acts of revenge that continue from generation to generation.

Mythos features a cast of 14 Israeli, Palestinian-Israeli and Ethiopian-Israeli actors. With deep awareness of the escalation of violence in her homeland, Yerushalmi “goes beyond the original in portraying the horrible futility of man’s obsession with killing,” according to a review published in The Jerusalem Post.

“I’ve been familiar with the work of Rina Yerushalmi and Itim for quite some time,” said Nigel Redden, director of the Lincoln Center Festival, “and when Rina invited me to see Mythos last November is Israel, I was glad to go and immediately knew the piece would be right for the Festival. The casting of young Israeli and Ethiopian Jews and Palestinian actors in this tragic play only underscores its timely and universal message.”

The Lincoln Center Festival features three weeks of over 100 performances in music, theater and dance, and includes 20 premieres and debuts with artists and ensembles from Korea, China, Russia, England, Italy, Germany, Brazil and the U.S. Mythos will have six performances at the festival, from July 8-13 at La Guardia Drama Theater.

In addition to the Lincoln Center bookings, Mythos has attracted international interest elsewhere, and is set to be performed at upcoming international theater festivals: in Zurich, Switzerland, in August and in Dublin, Ireland, in October. It will be performed in Hebrew, with a simultaneous English translation.

Yerushalmi said the varied cast was chosen to make a deliberate point.

“I’m trying to show the price of revenge is that both sides die. There’s an absolute relevance to today’s situation in the Middle East,” she told ISRAEL21c.

Yerushalmi founded The Itim Theatre Ensemble in 1989 and its first performance was Hamlet at the Acre Festival ’89. In 1992, Yerushalmi was awarded the Moshe Halevi Theatre Prize, and in their decision the judges describe her theatre as “currently one of the few aesthetic phenomena in Israel and the world that is worthy of the title ‘important’, as Rina Yerushalmi’s activities are returning the theatre to its former glory by turning it, from a means of distraction and flight from reality, to the level of a tool that is vital, pulsating and thought-evoking on the essence of our human, social and political experience.”

Born in Afula and raised in Haifa, Yerushalmi’s original calling was dance which she studied from four until she entered the army at 18. A dance-related neck injury changed her direction and after the army she found herself enrolled in London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. Returning to Israel in the 1960s, she acted, sang and staged managed for impresario Giora Godik and subsequently assisted the movement pioneer Moshe Feldenkreiss. She has studied theater in Europe and Japan and has taught at the Carnegie Mellon University (where she received her MFA) and New York University.

The Bible Project, her latest work with the Ensemble, was granted The Theatre Academy Award 1998, and the 1999 Millo Award for Best Director. Her latest opera Electra (Strauss) was performed at The International Opera Festival in Israel, and at the International Opera Festival 2000, Savonlina, Finland. In 2001 Yerushalmi received the Rosenbloom Award for the founding of the Itim Theatre Ensemble and for her uniqueness as a theatre director.

In opera, she has directed Hansel and Gretel (Humperdinck) at the New Israel Opera, a production for which Opera News – New York gave her Brava. Her latest opera Electra for the Israeli Opera Festival and The International Opera Festival Savonlina 2000 (Finland) was acclaimed as “stunningly impressive” (Ita Savo). In 2001 she received the title of Doctor Philosophiae Honoris Causa from The Hebrew University in Jersalem. Yerushalmi also serves as a professor at Tel Aviv University.


For Yerushalmi, the performances of Mythos in the United States provides a perfect example of how the two cultures can complement each other.

“This is not a traditional Israeli folklore play, it comes from the most classical material written by the Greeks. But the fact that we’re presenting the play in New York shows that Israel has something to offer to the capital of world culture. It shows that two worlds can meet.”

As far as providing a message to Americans who see the play, Yerushalmi expressed optimism that a different Israel will come to light.

“I hope that our appearance will shift the view in America that everyone here is involved in war and terror, and that we are busy creating. And I think we are expressing a sentiment that we’re not passing judgment, except that it’s nearly inevitable that both sides will suffer and people will die if things keep on as they are.”