The Israeli play being performed in New York City

“Welcome back to live theater!” Yoni Vendriger says, standing before the audience before the show begins. I realize that this is the first time I have seen a play in a theater since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

Except that the theater, in this case, is an apartment in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, and the “stage” is, for most of the show, the sofa in the living room.

About 15 of us make up the audience, most of them friends of the apartment residents. Everyone in the room is in their twenties, and it feels more like a house party than a play as we have drinks and snacks and introduce ourselves. When the play is about to begin, we sit against the back wall on folding chairs and additional sofas. Vendriger, the show’s producer, gives the standard directives: silence our cell phones, try not to use the bathroom, enjoy.

We’re here to see “Divorced,” the American version of the Israeli play “Grushim,” which was developed last year by Tel Aviv’s Cameri Theater during the height of the COVID lockdowns. Cameri, which receives funding from the Israeli government, is one of the two main theaters in Israel and is the official theater of Tel Aviv. The theater produces Hebrew adaptations of major international plays, as well as intimate and original Israeli plays that tour the country.

“Grushim” is part of “Out of the Box,” an initiative by the theater to make art and theater accessible to more people during the pandemic. Some of the works were made with Zoom and / or broadcast live; others, like “Grushim,” were produced to be performed in people’s homes or backyards, where audiences can hold their bubbles.

“The idea was that if people could no longer go to the theater, Cameri would bring the theater to them,” Vendriger told Jewish Week in New York.

The dance video was also screened in New York City’s Times Square. (credit: COURTESY OF ZAZ10TS)

“It sounded like fun. I’m friends with Yoni and he told me about it, so I volunteered to be the host and invited my friends to buy tickets, ”said that night’s host, Zach Schaffer, before the show. Other hosts find out through social media or word of mouth; their addresses are not revealed until tickets are purchased.

Written by Gur Koren, Cameri’s lead playwright, “Divorced” is the story of two characters, Maya and Ben, who share a son and had separated five years earlier. Maya’s newest boyfriend just broke up with her, and Ben is the only person who knows her well enough to help her get over it. It is an intense and comical story about a friendship and a connection that nothing, not even new loves, can break.

“This work was born out of this need, this desire to bring art and connection to people’s homes,” said Vendriger, who produced the American version through his nonprofit, the Israeli Artists Project.

The Israeli Artists Project, launched in 2018, aims to produce and promote Israeli art, theater, and music throughout the New York area. The project connects Israeli artists living throughout the area and shows their work throughout the city, as well as producing their own shows, some with original music.

For Vendriger, producing this particular play meant finding a director, choosing two sets of actors to alternate performances, and translating the Hebrew version into English and making it feel more local in New York.

The four actors in the play, all in their 30s, Maia Karo, Ron Orlovsky, Emilly Bènami and Matan Zrachia, are members of the Israeli Artists Project, so Vendriger had worked with them before. They perform the show in its English and Hebrew versions depending on the night.

In Israel, the public can now see the play in theaters. But since arriving in New York City in June, “Divorced” has relied on people to put on the show in their apartments, as originally intended. Some months, the show runs six times, in six different apartments. Some months there are only two willing hosts. “It really depends on how many we can organize,” Orlovsky, who alternates the male lead with Zrachia, told me.

“We created a play that can take place on any stage, without lighting, without space,” said Zrachia, who also directed the New York adaptation. “They are just two people, talking.”

Although apartment theater became something of a phenomenon during the pandemic, it had not yet experienced such a production. I was excited and, if not very skeptical, at least a little bit convinced of the whole premise.

Until it started, that is. I completely forgot that I was in a stranger’s apartment while watching the show. The room was small enough that he could hear every word, every inflection, every sigh. He was as close as he had ever been to a “stage,” just a few feet away, and he could see every grin, smile, or roll his eyes.

“You were so into this,” Karo, the lead actress, tells me that night after the show when I come up to give her a hug. “The energy of the audience makes a big difference. I was like, ‘I must be doing a great job.’

Honestly, the experience gave a whole new meaning to live theater. In the end, I was not only willing to see the complete play again, I also wanted to present a production in my apartment.

Vendriger said the program will last as long as possible.

“I don’t necessarily see an end in sight,” he said. “Even when Broadway opens, there will always be people who prefer not to go to a theater with strangers, or people who still want to see small, intimate experiences. When you watch a play like this with your friends and family, or even people you don’t know, it becomes a meeting place and a gathering place for people with similar interests to come to a specific place and share the experience together. “.

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