Elliot Norton Reviews: Israeli Plays at Brandeis, 1980

by Jessica Green

As an intern at WGBH, I have watched over 50 episodes of the Elliot Norton Reviews in an effort to catalogue the successful series of theater-related interviews that ran from 1958 to 1982. While I have come across several plays that I am all too familiar with, including Richard III, The Threepenny Opera, Annie, The King and I, Pirates of Penzance, and The Elephant Man, I am grateful to have also been introduced to many plays that may have otherwise never crossed my path. Endgame at Kiryat Gat is one of the more interesting plays I have been exposed to and wish to share with all of you.

On March 4, 1980, Elliot Norton interviewed director Nola Chilton and actors Scott Richards and Ellen Finholt about two plays at the Spingold Theatre at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA in an episode of the Elliot Norton Reviews titled “Israeli Plays at Brandeis.” Naim is based on the novel, “The Lover,” by A.B. Yehoshua and adapted by Nola Chilton; Endgame at Kiryat Gat is based on a short story of the same name by John Auerbach, and adapted by Nola Chilton and Itzik Weingarten.

Coat of Arms, Kiryat Gat. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Perhaps because of my undying love for Samuel Beckett, I was immediately drawn to Endgame at Kiryat Gat, which takes place in an actual development town in the Negev Desert. Chilton explains to Norton that the Moroccan Jewswho immigrated to this town in the 1950s, came from a culture based on agriculture. As they developed into an industrial town, however, the second generation became quite different from the first.

She goes on to talk about the relevance of this play in regards to the current relationship between the European or Ashkenazi Jews and the influx of Moroccan Jews, which she referred to as “Oriental Jews.” In her opinion, the relationship between the two groups was becoming strained as the “Oriental Jews” were beginning to outnumber the European Jews as 55% of the population. Of this turbulent relationship, she tells Norton, “Where people are, there cannot be equality. Where people are, there’s conflict and there’s a kind of struggle and there is always a confrontation and I think that the healthy survive. And that’s our only hope.” Since this episode aired, a large population of Jews from the former Soviet Union immigrated to this town in the 1990’s.

Chilton explains that the play is about several members of this second generation of Moroccan Jews, who set up a little theater in an effort to bring respect to their family’s name. Scott Richards plays the theater director and Ellen Finholt’s husband. In Chilton’s words, “a crazy hippy American” comes wandering through town and has the idea that he can get the theater to put on Samuel Beckett’s play, Endgame. He believes this modern generation of Moroccan Jews can relate to the “nowhereness, pain, and suffering” in the play. He does his best to change them, break them down, and make them feel these things. In the end, however, they are strong and he is the one that breaks down in sorrow and emptiness.

What message do you take from this play?
How might this play be performed differently today, over 30 years later?
Can you see another setting that would work for this type of plot?

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