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A local troupe brings absurd theater to Shenzhen

Founded in 1990 by Roni Kenan, Hai-Po is a community theater that staged many plays over the years. Its latest endeavor is Samuel Becket's "one-mouth" play, Not I, from 1972.

Daphna Kohane, who acts in the play, was a member of Hai-Po (sounds like "Haifa"; literal meaning "living here") for fourteen years before going solo with the monodrama Victoria, based on Sami Michael's novel. Then, after touring with the show for nearly five years, "I felt I had to do some ensemble work; I had to have people around me on stage." Three years ago, she returned to be active in Hai-Po.

Cahana: "Hai-Po has a fringe group that works with actor and director Effi Tradonsky. I really like this challenging avant-garde theater, that tackles classic works from different angles. Last year we staged Nissim Aloni's The Emperor's Clothes, with an amazing interpretation by the director; I played the King.

"After that, we began working on a small, relatively unknown play by Samuel Beckett, Not I. The preparation process was intense—working on the character and comprehending the place from which she came. We worked for about a year, and performed it for the first time a few months ago in Beit HaGeffen, where we met Aviva Shpigelshtein, Haifa Municipality's Vice Secretary General. That was how it came to be that we took the show to Shenzhen, Haifa's twin city in China—with the help of Shpigelshtein and the late Uri Bloom, who was the head of the Culture Department—as part of the International Arts Week.

"Originally, the play is written for one actress whose character's name is Mouth, a woman of seventy who suddenly has some insight, remembers the history of her gloomy life, while her recall process is shrouded in denial: 'What?... Who?... No!... She!' This reflects her inability to confront her past and memories, and the reminiscing forced upon her.

"The director split the part to five different actors. Each small Mouth, so to speak, represents a part of the one big Mouth. Therefore, it was necessary to translate the play to theatrical actions as well. This compels the audience to get involved emotionally; they go through a process of introspection, and perhaps engage in restoring all sorts of pivotal moments from their own lives.

"The visit to China was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime event. Now, the show is suitable for small audiences, 40 to 50 people. When we arrived in Shenzhen, we found ourselves in a huge Hall, with 500 seats.

"Still, the responses have exceeded all our expectations. When I did Victoria, there were some moving reactions, standing ovations and so on, but the members of the group and I have never experienced anything of such a scale. The audience lived the play with us, connected in a way that demonstrated that language was not relevant to the situations presented, the memories and the hardships, rejection, love, the desire to overcome loneliness, the harsh education. We were lavished with love such as we have never received."