The tragic biblical figure of Samson (Judges 13-16) is the focus of Yafim Rinen-berg’s bold and modern dramatic staged interpretation, which is based on a novel from 1926 by Zionist leader and writer Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Which in fact is an autobiography of Jabotinsky himself as the biblical Samson. And now even Rinenberg binds his own personal life story to the biblical character.
The historical background is double: the Israelites and Philistines battling for dominance in Canaan of the 11th century BC, and the Jews and British seeking the same dominance in Palestine of the 1920’s.
Consequently, the play deals with a nationalist and romantic conflicts of Samson, who is torn in a schizophrenic dichotomy between his love for two rivalling civilisations: Israelite and philistines .Samson, the title character, is a judge from the tribe of Dan, a man consecrated to God among the Israelites, who neither drinks, shaves, nor cuts his hair. When he’s among the Philistines, however, he is a drinker, gambler and womaniser, and makes friends with the Philistines, admiring their culture, military order, and cultural supremacy. At the same time, he is leading a guerrilla war against them, killing them and burning their fields.
He also finds the Philistine women more attractive than the Israelite ones, and decides to marry a woman, Smadar, from the Philistine town, rather than an Israelite woman, who has been chosen for him from his own town.
Smadar (young grapes) is a name given in the novel to Samson’s Philistine wife, who is nameless in the biblical story. Also, her sister, who is offered to Samson after Smadar marries Achtor (Samson’s friend), has a name in this play, Elinoar.
Elinoar ‘the young sister, is jealous of Samdar and tries to seduce Samson before their marriage. After Elinoar is rejected, and Samson kills Achtor his friend who dared to take his wife from him, the Philistines kill Smadar and her father and burn their house.
This act, in accordance with the biblical story, increases the level of conflict be-tween Samson and the Philistines, leading to his inevitable capture and death. An interesting twist in the plot is that Delilah, the woman who seduces Samson, and cuts his hair off leading to the loss of his strength. she is none other than the jealous younger sister, Elinoar, seeking revenge.
Before his death Samson is offered lordship over Israel by the Philistine tyrant Seren, but politely refuses, stating that the Philistines are already satisfied and will not hold rule over the land for long (an apparent reference to the short-lived British occupation in Israel).
In prison Samson converses with the woman he was supposed to marry. He tells her, in his last commandment to the Israelites, to do three things: “Gather Iron, Crown A king, and learn how to laugh”. This is an attempt to show change in his character, when he finally choses a side. An act the subsequently leads to his tragic death. The director fails to make this development in the character very convincing.
The production includes visual elements such as a double curtain on each side of the stage upon which clues are screened throughout the play; pouring buckets of water; mud (to blind Samson); and fertility figurines of pagan goddesses. There is a round table at the centre acting as stage and alter, and ‘orientalist’ costumes for the cast. The set designer thus takes us to an illusionary time and place rather than an authentic depiction of Israel in the biblical times. He conveys a unique atmosphere that surrounds the progress of the plot.
The director and production cast are successful in bringing the biblical story to life in a daring and bold attempt to stage a dusty 90-year-old novel in modern fringe theatre. Overall, however, I found the play too long and even monotonous at times. This young cast of actors, however, shows great promise and I look forward to seeing future productions from Mikro Theatre.
- By Zeev Jabotinski
- Translated, edited and directed by Yafim Rinenberg
- Cast includes: Josef Albalak, Ran Cohen, Sima Goren, Ilan Hazan, Gabriela Lichman, Renana Nitay, Isaac Pekar, Ofer Yerushalmi, Noa Zankel
- Jerusalem Theatre, Jerusalem
- July 12-13, August 14-16 in Jerusalem, and in September 7 in Tel Aviv
- Review by Ido Garfinkel
- 9 June 2017