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Good theatre should be subversive: Motti Lerner

Israeli playwright Motti Lerner's plays have been performed everywhere across the world but in his own country. Here' the author gets candid about being a political writer, Israeli theatre, censorship and more.

books Updated: Sep 30, 2011 16:59 IST
Sonakshi Babbar, Hindustan Times

"I'm generally writing... I start writing in the morning and write till late in the night", says Israeli playwright Motti Lerner.

And he doesn't exaggerate.

The Israeli playwright is famous not just for his hard-hitting political plays but also for numerous screenplays. If that wasn't enough he is also coming up with a book that explores the influence of political plays on the moral judgment of the spectator.

"A play doesn't work unless it’s personal and deals with the depth of the human beings." A former fellow at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, Lerner is happy to be back in India to attend the Delhi chapter of Kovalam literary festival.

Immensely moved by a recent theatre production of his play, In The Dark, by Chingari theatre group, Lerner said, "The play is about an artist whose family doesn't recognize his genius and is jealous of his success. The Indian production went beyond my expectations, not only was the production was great; I was very impressed with how a play about an Israeli dysfunctional family changed into a play about a dysfunctional Indian family. They didn't change or cut anything in the play, the play turned out to be much more universal than I expected."

Inspired by the theatre group’s dedication to their art, he said, "I really admire the fact that they took it upon themselves to produce the play without any institutional support. It makes me think, if they can do it here, why can't I do it in Israel?"

"Since 1995, I've had countless production around the world, it’s very painful that I haven't been able to perform in my country, but I won't give up."

Evidently much affected by this, he warms up to the theme, "While there's no official censorship in Israel (it was abolished in the 70s), there's something much worse - self-censorship. The consensus is now in the right wing, the political situation ahs grown worse and worse since the 90s and this is why people feel protected by the idea of a consensus, they know how to feel, think, and are comfortable. The audience is threatened by plays and ideas that are out of the consensus. Even playwrights feel comfortable in the consensus; they get the respect, money, and publicity, it is very convenient. I'm one of the few who are struggling to showcase plays which shake the consensus. In fact as the years go by, I 'have become more and more radical."

An avid admirer of Bertolt Brecht, Arthur Miller and Anton Chekhov, Lerner is adamant about writing political plays.

"I belong to the radical left in Israel, writing political play is a very responsible act. With 3.5 million of the total population of a little more than 6 million in Israel are theatregoers; theatre is undoubtedly the most important art in Israel. In fact half a million tickets are sold in one season. We don't have revolution or military coups, it's a fairly democratic country, so we need to convince the audience that they will grow and develop by watching political plays, it will influence their important decisions."

First Published: Sep 30, 2011 16:59 IST