Israel's Gesher Theater performs "Slave" and two other plays this month at the Chekhov.
Led by veteran Soviet theater and television director Yevgeny Aryeh, the troupe had humble beginnings, performing excerpts of plays in Russian to small groups of culturally starved Soviet immigrants.
Then, in 1991, the company staged its first complete play, Tom Stoppard's "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead," which the actors performed in Hebrew, although neither the actors nor the director was familiar with the language. Against all odds, the production was a smash hit, bringing the small ensemble the kind of critical and popular acclaim of which larger, better-funded companies could only dream.
Since then, the Gesher, or Bridge, Theater, which begins a week of local shows on Thursday at the Chekhov Art Theater, has gone on to reinvigorate the Israeli theater scene, performing in dozens of countries and taking part in theatrical festivals around the world, including the Lincoln Center Festival in New York and the prestigious Festival d'Avignon in France.
With more than 20 full-time members, the company is an eclectic mix of native Israelis and Russian immigrants that combines elements of two cultures in its choice of repertoire, actors and even language. Gesher's actors first rehearse a piece in Russian, then switch to Hebrew after a few weeks, performing works by Jewish playwrights as well as Russian classics.
The Gesher's run at the Chekhov Art Theater, which is scheduled to continue through Oct. 15, is a unique homecoming for many of its members. Although the company has toured the world, it has yet to perform in Russia, the birthplace of several of its actors.
During its seven-day stint here, the ensemble presents three plays: "Village" by Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol, which chronicles the events of the years 1942 to 1947 as experienced by the residents of one village; "Slave," based on a novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer, which the troupe performs in Hebrew with simultaneous translation; and a Russian-language performance of "City," a dramatization of Isaac Babel's "Odessa Stories."
The Gesher Theater performs "Village" at 7 p.m. on Thursday and Oct. 10, "Slave" at 7 p.m. on Oct. 11 and 12 and "City" at 7 p.m. on Oct. 14 and 15.
All shows are at the Chekhov Art Theater, located at 3 Kamergersky Pereulok. Metro Teatralnaya. Tel. 229-8760. Tickets are available at city theater kiosks and at the theater.