Tuesday, May 26, 2020

For the 'Shtissel Brothers,' life begins at 70

The coronavirus pandemic may have boxed "seniors" age 60 and over as a high-risk group, but at least two of that group's members are feeling more alive than ever.
Unlike many of their peers in retirement, actors Dov Glickman and Sasson Gabai time isn't spent solely pursuing hobbies or playing with their grandchildren. The two are enjoying the type of professional boom actors half their age can only dream about, and are starring in hit shows and plays in Israel and the US.
"I want to enjoy what's left," says Gabai, 72. "I want to do more and more, as much as I can. I have absolutely no intention of slowing down, on the contrary, I'm speeding up."
"I feel I'm getting younger by the day," adds Glickman, 70. "Scientifically, a person is considered old when he begins driving below the speed limit. Seriously, I checked it out with my niece, who researches aging. Well, I'm not there yet. Professionally, this is the best period in my entire acting career. Without a doubt. I'm working on excellent materials, with great partners and great writers and directors."

"I've also reached a kind of peak in recent years," Gabai says. "I was exactly 70 when I was invited to perform on Broadway in The Band's Visit. I'm only now beginning to realize what a major and unique professional opportunity that is. Performing at 70 in the Mecca of theater, that's a peak."
This is a conversation between two good friends, who compliment each other profusely, listen carefully, understand, encourage, and enjoy each other's company.
Glickman says they are "kindred spirits, like brothers."
Gabai agrees. "Over the years our relationship has steadily become closer. A 'brother relationship' is a good description in our case. But I'd rather not talk about it too much, since it's a precious thing for me and I just want it to grow deeper."
In late March, Gabai returned to Israel after a US tour of The Band's Visit was cut short due to the coronavirus crisis.
"First I waited for three weeks in New York, because it wasn't yet clear what was going to happen. The city was no longer New York as we know it. It changed completely, only Central Park stayed more or less the same. Every day I went for at least a two-hour walk in the park with Dafna, my wife."
Q: Did you self-quarantine after you returned to Israel?
"Yes, we self-quarantined for two weeks in our house in Ramat Aviv. We felt a combination of jet lag and shock. I went from very intensive work to being cooped up at home. I wasn't thinking in terms of good or bad, but I needed time to adapt.
"The uncertainty is unpleasant, but pretty soon I got busy with future projects, reading screenplays, putting things in order. All I was required to do was to stay at home, a home that I like. As long as you're not sick, it's a very modest requirement."
"For us those corona days were so good," adds Glickman, whose partner for the last decade is Shlomzion Kenan, 50, with whom he shares a home in the center of Tel Aviv.
"I've been hearing about couples who've gone crazy. We felt like nothing was missing in our life. It was a quiet time, enjoying our pets, cooking, resting, talking, watching British drama series, walking our dog Mumus. Until the Zehu Ze reunion, when I became an essential worker," he says of the iconic Israeli TV satire show, which ran for 21 seasons prior to the reunion, which has earned rave reviews.
Gabai and Glickman – among the veteran performers in the Israeli cultural field – began working together only five years ago, during the second season of the television series Shtisel.
They played two brothers, Shulem (Glickman) and Nuhem (Gabai). Back in the day, Gabai participated in a number of Zehu Ze episodes.
These days they're appearing side by side again, in the second season of Stockholm, a Kan 11 ensemble cast dramedy starring some of Israel's iconic actors.
They play a pair of close friends – Professor Amos Barazani (Gabai) and Yehuda Harlap (Glickman) who become embroiled in the mystery surrounding the death of their good friend Professor Avishai Sar-Shalom (played be Zehu Ze co-star Gidi Gov).
The second season opens with Sar-Shalom's funeral, when a new character appears (played by Shlomo Bar-Aba, another Zehu Ze alumni), who claims to be a close friend of the deceased, confusing everyone else.
At 69, Bar-Aba is one of the youngest cast members, The series also starts Tiki Dayan, 71, Liora Rivlin, 75, and Shoshik Shani, 85 – three iconic Israeli actresses in their own right.
"The series was put in the hands of actors hungry for life and career success, who have absolutely no interest in retirement," laughs Gabai. "We love our profession, have passionate discussions about our work, argue over nuances as if we're just starting out. It's important for all of us even more than it was 30 years ago. We all have a strong work ethic and loyalty to the project, to the point that it becomes the most important thing in our lives."
Q: Is that also because you fear it will end?
"You know what? I don't even want to think about that question. Actors are always afraid of rejection, of being unwanted. An actor always fears what will happen to him after the peak. Ensuring your continued success and protecting your place requires effort and emotional strength. I'm able to repress those thoughts through hard work, and I have no reason to complain. I'm just thankful for what I have."
Glickman: "I think not knowing is what makes acting the best profession in the world. It's an adventure, and it excites me. Each project is a pregnancy, and you never know what will happen to it after it's born. There's no ultrasound scan to let you know what's going on."
Q: After decades in show business, including periods of unemployment, what do you think brought on the change in recent years?
"The part of Shulem in Shtisel," Gabai is quick to answer for Glickman. "A huge role that gave Doval'e's career a major boost. I would look at him in Shtisel and be amazed. Such precise, effortless reactions. Making an effort, pushing and exerting yourself – that isn't good for an actor."
Glickman: "That's true, it's a development of the past seven years, since Shtisel's first season. Shulem was the best part I ever played, and it came at the exact moment when I was ready to play it," he says of the role for which he won two Israeli Television Academy awards for his part in the show, in 2013 and 2015.
"There's a certain age when you learn to let go as an actor, and you gain a lot by that. The passion is the same, the fire is the same, but you no longer feel you have to prove yourself as much. 20 or 30 years ago I wouldn't have been able to do that."

Keeping busy

In addition to Stockholm and Shtisel, in recent years Glickman has played in the series The Conductor,  the films Big Bad Wolves, Driver, and Laces (for which he won the 2018 Ophir Award for Best Supporting Actor), and the plays Glengarry Glen Ross, at the Haifa Theater and Angina Pectoris at the Tzavta Theater.
Gabai has been equally busy. He played in the series Virgins and in the films The Band's Visit (for which he won the 2007 Ophir Award for Best Actor), Hunting Elephants, Kidon, The Kind Words, The Other StoryThe Angel, and Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem, for which he won the 2014 Ophir Award for Best Supporting Actor.
At Beit Lessin Theater, his professional home for the past 25 years, he appeared recently in the plays The Father and Polishuk, produced following a critically acclaimed TV show in which he also starred.
He is married to the author and scriptwriter Dafna Halaf-Gabai, with whom he has two children – Adam, 22, a novice actor, and Uri, 20, a soldier serving as a musical arranger in army ensembles. Adam is now living in Chicago and has already played in the HBO series Our Boys, as well as in The Band's Visit, alongside his father.
Gabai has been playing in The Band's Visit on Broadway since June 2018. Shortly after he joined, the musical won 10 Tony awards, including for Best Musical.
"I've performed the part over 500 times: 320 on Broadway, in the course of ten months, and another 200 on the play's US and Canada tour. We started planning our West Coast tour when the curtain came down. I really hope we can soon go on.
"Broadway is an incredible experience. The power, the size, the professionalism, the precision, and also the warmest audience. To the point that fans come up to you in the street, and above all wait for you outside the theater when the play is over. Each time the play was staged there were dozens of people waiting outside behind metal barriers, and I would go among them hand out autographs. I don't recall ever being asked for an autograph in Israel."
His son, Adam, joined the cast when the play embarked on its US tour.
"We have one scene together, so our contact on the stage is limited," says the proud father. "That gives me the greatest pleasure – standing behind the scenes and watching him. This is his first professional play, and he's wonderful. His presence made everything easier for me, and Dafna was also with us most of the time, coming back to Israel once in a while to be with Uri.
"For now Adam is in the States, and we'll have to see what happens with the play. In any case he'll audition for parts in the US and in Israel and see what's best for him."
Q: How was the US tour, compared to performing on Broadway?
"On Broadway, we performed eight times a week. Twice a week with two performances a day, four with one, and one day of rest. It's hard work, just the way I like it. Moving every few weeks to a new city and a new apartment becomes difficult at some point. You get up at night to go to the bathroom and you get lost in the kitchen. It's tiring physically and mentally. But I'd do it all again, and I'll be happy to keep it up until further notice."
 Q: Isn't it better to move to a new apartment every couple of weeks than to sleep each night in a van in Israel?
"It's different, but I never complained of those trips in Israel. I never said I was sick of it, even if it was a bit hard. I don't mind traveling and I definitely don't mind working hard. That makes me laugh. Actors dream of their play became a hit, and then when it's a hit, you complain about having to travel and work hard? I'll never understand that.
"Another thing is that I never asked for a reduction in the number of weekly performances. My approach is that if you have a play and it's running, take it. All of it. Don't ask questions, don't ask for understudies and breaks, because it will be over, and you don't know what will happen next.
"We're great at complaining. In fact, that's part of our charm. An Israeli actor gets in the van and says, 'Nu, here we go again.' I admit it's crowded and claustrophobic. You're on the road for hours, and then you have to get up on the stage and be fresh and focused.
"In the US there weren't any trips like that. In New York I lived in a hotel near Broadway, and in other places too I could usually walk to the theater. By the way, from the minute I got to New York I didn't hear anybody complaining, either onstage or behind the scenes.
"I guess because the competition is so tough, when you have work you appreciate it, you're elated. You're glad to do it, even if it's eight performances a week. There are actors who do that for years. I don't know if I could be happy working like that, but they don't complain."
Glickman's international experience is more modest.
Three years ago he played in the film Murer: Anatomy of a Trial, filmed in Luxemburg. The film is based on the true story of an Austrian politician tried for war crimes as the commander of the Vilna Ghetto.
"I felt it gave me a sense of life abroad," says Glickman. In 2015 he participated in the filming of Joseph Cedar's Norman in New York. For the past three years, he has been on the cast of the Stuttgart State Theater, participating in the play Birds of a Kind by Lebanese playwright Wajdi Mouawad, alongside Evgenia Dodina and Itay Tiran.
Q: You play the role in German?
"Yes, the entire play is in German, though I don't really know the language. It was a dream: two-and-a-half months of pleasant rehearsals, Shlomzion joined me and we received an amazing apartment in Stuttgart. I still perform in the show, the audience loves it – we got 15 minutes of applause. But there are two or three performances a month. I come for two days and go back to Israel, and that isn't fun. Not the kind of experience I'm looking for.
"But these performances did make me realize that what I like best is traveling the world as part of my job. I haven't had the chance to work so intensively and powerfully as Sasson has. That sounds so exciting and wonderful, I envy him."
Gabai: "I envy myself for my time on Broadway and in the States. Hopefully, I'll soon get back to doing that."
Glickman: "I'm trying to convince Noa Yedlin to write a third season for Stockholm that will be filmed abroad. What do you say? In Sweden for example. What could be more fitting than for those folks to get into trouble, end up there and justify the title of the series? I also suggested to the writers of Shtisel that Shulem should get up one morning, discover that his son has gone missing, and start searching for him around the world."
Gabai: "You can come visit Nuhem in Belgium."
Glickman: "Exactly. That's what I told them."
Gabai: "Too bad we filmed Nuhem's Belgium apartment on Herzl Street in Tel Aviv."
Glickman: "Oh, yeah. I repressed that. Right, we filmed near Allenby. Never mind, I'll find a solution, wait and see."

'Pathetic, in the best sense of the word'

Last December Gabai returned to Israel for two weeks to film the new season of Stockholm.
"The greatness of Stockholm is that the elderly are in the center rather than being cast as a weak group," laughs Gabai while Glickman tries to calm down. "They might be somewhat pathetic, and they're definitely petty, obsessive, anxious, but they're still active, ambitious, full of dreams, desires, drives and urges, with a tendency for intrigue and complications. They talk about sex, they're interested in sexuality, and that's beautiful. Yes, folks. There is sex after 70."
Glickman: "Is it necessary to explain that this topic is always a part of our lives? One of the proofs is that very old Alzheimer's patients lose all their sexual inhibitions and break all the rules."
Gabai: "Some men lose their inhibitions and break all the rules without Alzheimer's."
Glickman: "You know I read recently that there's this trend of people who are interested in life without sex. By choice."
Gabai: "I can't understand that. What's the idea? If we're here, isn't it a shame to let it all go to waste? Young and old people alike have drives. You look at an old person and you forget that inside he's still a boy, a youth, a young man."
Glickman: "Sasson, I think men are more childish than women."
Gabai: "Definitely. We're infantile. Women are better than us in every respect."
Q: You talk a lot about your wives.
"Out of fear!" Yells Glickman. "It's all out of fear!"
"Of course, we better talk about them," Gabai joins in. "The truth is, Dafna and I have just gone through a very intense stage lasting almost two years, which strengthened our relationship. We gave a great deal to each other, and it was good. Dafna gave me a feeling of home, of stability. I would come back from performances and she'd wait for me, like after performances in Israel. We talk, drink and eat together. She's with me."
Q: Are you concerned about how the crisis will affect the cultural scene?
Glickman: "I'm very concerned, and it will be horrible. The world can't live without culture. There's no life without music, television, movies, plays. What are we sitting at home for? First of all to protect our health, but also to protect our basic values. So we can go back to our lives, our pleasures, going out, studying, cultivating our interests. I don't have any operational advice, that isn't my job. I just want people to get their freedom back.
"Basic values are being crushed, and it isn't just because of the corona crisis. Before the crisis our leadership also tried to convince us that survival is of supreme value. This was not just politically motivated. First they tell us how strong and superior and pioneering we are, then they tell us we're in survival mode that they have to protect us because we're in constant and terrible danger. They're pulling the wool over our eyes.
"Of course, security is important, but they're trying to blind us to anything other than a struggle for survival. As if an Israeli patriot is only someone who survives and puts his trust in the leader. Is a person who doesn't feel he's in a struggle for survival a hater of Israel? No, not at all."
Gabai: "The leadership should manage the business of leading properly, and not lecture us as to the meaning of life. Make sure our lives are healthy, fair, and functional, and we'll find their meaning on our own. In the field of culture, a great many people have suffered.
"The government should take this into consideration. The cultural field employs hundreds of thousands of people, most of them self-employed. It isn't true to say there is no way to support culture. There are reservoirs, emergency funds of some kind or other. The government should compensate our field, which has always been neglected and struggling until the danger is behind us."

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