THE PORTRAIT OF AGNON'S STAGE ADAPTER AS A LITERARY INTERPRETER
(Lecture, unknown date)
There are not many dramatic works in Hebrew suitable for stage performance, as most dramatic texts are "closet dramas". Hebrew theater prior to Establishment of State of Israel has always been in desperate need for dramatic texts. Hence Bialik was approached with famous demand: "O Prophet, let us have a play" (words "prophet" and "drama" in Hebrew are of the same derivative - ..... - so they form a witty pun), but all could give public was a translation of "Ha'dibbuk" - a folkloristic mediocre play with elements of dense-macabre which unexpectedly became the trade-mark of Ha'bima - the Hebrew national theater.
The need for drama of local colour became urgent on eve of the War of Independence, when a new generation entered cultural and political arena and sought its own portrait on stage. Consequently , some of young prose writers of young generation have undertaken a career of playwrights: Yigal Mossinsohn wrote hos play "In Deserts of the Negev", Moshe Shamir has written a dramatic version of his novel Walked in Fields". Nathan Shacham too has converted his story "Seven of Them" into a well-built play titled "They Will Arrive Tomorrow". Aaron Megged and Hanoch Bartov have respectively adapted their novels "Hedva and I" and "Everyone Had Six Wings" into stage versions. Most of these adaptations could be poetically looked upon as on totally new words. Thematic treatment as well as characterization were radically altered, hence a new artistic work was inevitably created.
AGNON IN THEATRE
S.Y. Agnon has, in fact, experienced every possible literary genre, but drama. It is assumed that a play of his gad been burnt together with his German home and vast library in the early 1920's. In his archives, however, there is not the slightest evidence of dramatic writings whatsoever.
Those producers who have tried to adapt Agnon to stage have always faced tremendous difficulties. Agnon is an easy temptation to stage producers because of dramatic tension inherent in his works together with their variety of dramatic personae. Agnon's works have also enticed young producers since they offer a gate to world of a lost jewry absorbed in tradition and Judaic values, but revealing at same time a modern world-view.
Any dramatic adaptation of a text by Agnon is by no means an easy enterprise: Agnon's style is generally archaic, and this results in inevitable aesthetic distance and may cause alienation between text and public. Agnon's highly stylized language cannot easily be adjusted to theatre, as it hardly differentiates between characters, and what is a stylistic advantage in a novel soon becomes a dramatic disadvantage for stage which is in need of a vivid dialogue and not of portrayal of latent indirect motivation. Consequently, producer often invents role of the narrator as in epic theatre of Bertolt Brecht and Thornton Weilder (?).
In addition, it is not an easy task to convey Agnon's irony and to allude to public that text is not pathetic as it seems, but indirectly ironical and whimsical. Another difficulty which arises is connected with status of Agnon's works: audience is very often acquainted with these works, so there is always the danger of disappointment, as the dramatic version tends to be single-faceted whereas literary text is generally open to unlimited interpretations. Moreover, external plot in most of Agnon's works is relatively poor and is characterized by many intentional delays. This style-marker which is very effective in written version frequently becomes an obstacle for dramatist and stage-director.
Why would then anyone dare to adapt a masterpiece by Agnon, ifis most probably going to suffer an inevitable total defeat, as there are virtually no chances to "improve" literary work by Agnon by offering it a dramatic version? This question may as well be addressed to many interpreters of Shakespeare who incessantly create a new Shakespears, generation after generation, never being able to exhaust the innumerable possibilities offered by text.
AGNON'S "THE BRIDAL CANOPY" AS ADAPTED TO THE STAGE BY YIZAELI
One of boldest and most creative stage adapters of Agnon's works is J. Yizraeli who has successfully evaded sentimental folkloristic possibility to interpret "The Bridal Canopy", seeking an epic rather than a dramatic trend to this panoramic masterpiece. Thus, the actors rapidly change costumes and exchange roles, and dramatic sequence is based here neither on subtle characterization nor on dialogue. Epic distance is hence achieved not only thanks to highly stylized language, but also thanks to original technique of collective playing which prevents individual characterization. Reb Yudl Hossid - dressed in traditional cloths of Hassidim -remains unchanged throughout the play. All the other actors, however, are anachronistically dressed in jeans and up-to-date T shirts and move according to rhythms of Rock'n Roll music. audience is indirectly told not to take plot so severely and gloomily as would probably be required elsewhere in nostalgic stories from bygone Yiddish Stetl, but rather with a smile. The external difference between Yudl Hossid and rest also engances theme of individual in society.
In order to compete with problem of time tnd space (as epic encompasses vast ares and epochs), producer decided on altering journeys into slow-motion pantomime scenes. Conversely, meals were turned into over-rapid grotesque scenes. This is , of course, a comic paradox, as voyages are surely rhythmically faster than meals. Changing road signals hint at geographical leaps. All of these a-mimetic devices: the deliberate modernization of dialogue, costume and music add to Agnonean text a present meaning (as opposed to past significance).
All of these stage techniques serve, in fact, one cardinal purpose: they manifest attachment, or rather dis-attachment, of younger generation to Stetl which is an embodiment of the forsaken world of tradition. Instead of taking a nostalgic approach to text, Yizraeli chose to present a real-to-life confrontation between two generations which results in optimistic possibility of a dialogue without need to ignore gap.
Instead of dramatizing past, Yizraeli decided upon dramatization of the problem of present and past. sophisticated result is a sympathetic naive hero surrounded by young ironical clowns who think highly of themselves but appear naive in their unsophisticated attitude to aging protagonist. The audience can therefor reveal empathy both towards central figure and towards members of younger generation who compete with problem of past.
Yizraeli did not seek easy solutions to the heavy ideological problems raised by Agnon's epic novel. His originality is based on the drawing of a secondary theme in the novel from margins tocus. His interpretation is by no means external and compulsive but inherently justified, and it answers a real need of younger Israli audience.
AN EXPRESSIONISTIC INTERPRETATION OF A REALISTIC NOVEL BY S.Y. AGNON - "A SIMPLE STORY" AS ADAPTED BY J. YIZRAELI
The stage-adapter of Agnon's "A Simple Story" is faced with completely different problems, despite an apparent stylistic common-denominator with "Bridal Canopy". latter is a novel in which space and the collective picture are more important than time and dramatic development. "A Simple Story" is dramatic in nature, and its spacial descroption is subordinate to its temporal development. It is primarily a psychological novel and there is no point in turning the characters into two-dimensional figures by changes of costume and lighting. Moreover, "The Bridal Canopy" is comic in nature and based on light songs and verses and on dramatic interchange of doubles, whereas "A Simple Story" is tragic in nature and reveals psychological depth, and naturally requires a more classic treatment.
Most stage-adapters of this novel have stressed the struggle between the hero Hershl and hes mother Zirl. The mother represents the norms of bourgeoisie, while her son - naive attempt to challenge these norms. Heshl is faced with tragic need to make a choice between Minna, his mother's preferable bride and Blooma - object of his own romantic dreams. Here, Yizraeli was compelled to make characters more shallow and stereotypical than are originally, and to give up realistic amplitude for sake of emphasis and magnitude.
Consequently, several narrators were added, accompanied by an orchestra, and these additions shatter illusion of reality. Some of originally realistic elements gain magnitude and symbolic stature, such as cock's cry, abundant meals, abnormal brother etc.
In order to compensate for textual losses, Yizraeli added pantomime, decoration, music - trying to uld latent text hiding beneath literal manifest text. demonic elements which are only hinted at by Agnon gain prominence and potency.
Yizraeli's version of "A Simple Story" creates an expressionistic drama which is based on classical archaic Hebrew and is attached to real life with a defined social background. social aspects were minimized, and therre meta-psychologhcal aspects of madness and abnormalcy have gained new dimensions. Zirl's brother - originally a mute hero and an unimportant figure - becomes a central figure in play.
The members of family were brought together into a stuffy shop' full with feather bags which can give a feeling of claustrophobia. Everybody is a prisoner in this stuffy place, especially Hershl who finally collapses together with collapse of stage - symbolizing collapse of social and mental norms .descent of iron curtain (cage bars) at end of play gives a clue to final message: the hero is imprisoned again - this timer last time - and is not going to recover from his castration.
The most important laitmotifs in this drama are counting of the coins (symbol of bourgeois values which sucate younger and more naive members of family and the grotesque Rabelaisque meals which obliterate limits between the human and inhuman.
An original technique is based on mad uncle' as a twin figure is based on twin figure whose shadow is dancing throughout the play behind a transparent screen. This character which originally appears in novel in framework of memories is realized in stage version by a shadow pantomime. The mad uncle thus becomes an alter ego of the hero. When Hershl's madness outbursts, shadoe bursts into stage initiating a dance of madness.
Yizraeli repeatedly struggles with classical Hebrew texts absorbed with tradition and Jewish values, Since there is no classical Hebrew drama (such as plays by Shakespeare, Tacine, Goethe)chose to adapt most important Hebrew classic into the stage. He is influenced by many literary critics and scholars who have tackled Agnon's text from its demonic and absurd side and who have neglected its realistic aspects.
Two of these stage adaptations are prominent examples of Agnon's reception by contemporary audience. Yizraeli has chosen to interpret Agnon's "A Simple Story" as epitome of struggle of the oppressed against Mother Society, and this theme is probably timeless and unbound to local restrictions.