In Boston for Two Weeks Only! :: Dror Keren on His Israeli Stage Residency

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday March 6, 2019

Israeli Stage has brought luminaries such as Joshua Sobol and Nataly Zukerman to Boston for residencies in past years. In 2019, the company continues the tradition with a two-week residency by award-winning stage, film, and television actor Dror Keren.

Keren's theatrical adaptation of David Grossman's 2014 novel "A Horse Walks Into a Bar" — which he also directs and stars in — took Tel Aviv by storm, as did Keren's original play "On the Grill," a meditation on Israel's brief national history and the generational, and cultural, shifts that have arisen in that young country over the decades.

Known as a comedian and comic actor, Keren also has a long list of film and television credits to his name. The Israeli Stage press release calls Keren "funny, creative, winking... [and] loveable," and EDGE found him to be all of those things in a recent chat about his body of work, the new play he's bringing to Boston for a world premiere reading, and his take on how Israeli society and politics seem to be running parallel to those of the United States.

EDGE: How did your upcoming residency come about? Had you met with Guy Ben-Aharon in Israel?

Dror Keren: Yes, we met in Israel. Guy knew me as an actor, of course, and he contacted me after he saw "To the End of the Land," by David Grossman, which was performed at the Cameri Theater [in Tel Aviv]. He suggested that we meet, and we became friends. The residency came afterward. He suggested it, and I said yes to the challenge.

EDGE: You've worked in the States before, but have you been to Boston?

Dror Keren: Yes, I was there, I think, two years ago. My son studied at Berklee. He's a guitarist — he plays the electric guitar. He was there for summer school. I went there to visit him and stayed for three days, and met [people from] the Jewish community. We had some dinners and I gave a sort of a lecture there dealing with my play "On the Grill" [which was also performed at the Cameri Theater]. I talked about "To the End of the Land." It was quite interesting there.

EDGE: You'll be giving another talk this time, as well — several times, at both Brandeis University and at Bunker Hill Community College — called "What is Home?" Can you tell me a little about this talk?

Dror Keren: Yes, in a way it's something that [follows] the themes discussed in my play. Something that bothers me a lot the last few years is, "What is home? Where is home? And what about when your home doesn't feel like home anymore?" It's a strong issue, I feel, in our country now. I feel that we are divided into two big tribes, maybe more. It has a lot to do with our present, and with our future. It's not only about politics; this is the main issue, but as in America [it's now the case for many people] that your leader, who has the steering wheel in his hand, you don't like the direction he takes. It's a strong issue in our society. It almost breaks families apart.

My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor. He came here to this new country and the dream of the new country is going — well, not in the direction he would have thought. My father was in the Israeli air force. I remember the past; I live in the present; and my kids, they're talking about... they don't feel the homeland as I feel it. They think about leaving and going elsewhere to live — Europe, or in the States. This is part of the things I will talk about: What is home?

EDGE: You've had quite the career over the last two decades, performing around the world as well as in Israel, and receiving accolades for — among other projects — an adaptation of David Grossman's novel "A Horse Walks Into a Bar." Have you found audiences to be receptive to your work in the different countries where you have worked? Have some been more welcoming than others?

Dror Keren: It has been a wonderful thing for me. You know, it was something that makes me believe in the human race again, that we actually can take themes and plays and art elsewhere — to know, to feel, to hear, to see audiences abroad react to something that was written in another country, another language, another culture. "A Horse Walks Into a Bar," I thought, was so local because the theme that the hero of the novel is talking about is so from here [Israel]. Places, jokes, humor in general. But [when] we were in Slovakia and Croatia [I saw how] people react to the human story. A father is a father; children are children; and the issues, the language, the culture are all quite similar.

[Similarly,] "On the Grill," my play, was located in the kibbutz in Israel, in the North of the country, and to see that it [could succeed] in Cleveland, in a completely American production — the names of the characters are the same, but when they opened their mouths I was shocked to see how natural it was for them. You have the same things in the States: Backyard barbecues, PTSD, people who are coming from [combat situations] in Iraq and Vietnam. So, yes, similar issues. [The play] worked wonderfully.

EDGE: We are all people, after all.

Dror Keren: We are, we are. And we tend to forget how close we can be. The fact that theater is dealing with live people... it's a live experience. It's something that [the audience] are [responding to]. You see this, you feel this, [as opposed to the performers in] a movie. We can talk about it later. We can hear the audience — African American, Hispanic people, Jewish people, saying the same things or talking about different aspects of the [play] from their own point of view — it was fascinating for me.

EDGE: You're a comedian as well as an actor and playwright. Do you do standup?

Dror Keren: I do standup comedy, yes, I have a show [I have done] for the last ten years, and I'm planning to do a new show [next] winter. As a writer and a performer, I believe that is a mix. It's like life. You can cry with one eye and laugh with the other; tragedy and comedy sometimes are that close. This is a [ancient] Jewish issue, of course, [and also not so ancient, as with] the Holocaust. It is part of comedy, and part of life. I like using it — you can use comedy as a release.

EDGE: History has many appalling passages in terms of how Jewish people have been treated. And even today, we see the specter of anti-Semitism on the rise around the world. Do you feel that comedy can also be a successful means of countering hatred?

Dror Keren: I saw Trevor Noah the other day [when on the Feb. 28 broadcast of "The Daily Show" he made fun of Benjamin Netanyahu over bribery allegations]. It was a wonderful experience — I laughed. When you are a preacher, your words can mean [something different] to half of the people. When you're using comedy, you can go deeper because humor is a bridge between people, and you lose your walls — when you laugh you forget. You are freer, you can be more open to serious issues. It's a wonderful tool to use as a writer.

EDGE: You'll also be giving a world premiere staged reading of a play called "What Life Wants," on March 30 at Boston Playwrights' Theatre. This is a play you've written, isn't it?

Dror Keren: Yes... I'm still writing it!

EDGE: Will this be kind of a workshop experience?

Dror Keren: Yes, I'm coming to see my text in the actors' mouths and to work on the play. To see what works, and what doesn't. Basically, I'm dealing with family in this play — the new generation and the original generation of this country. And, also, to discuss political issues. I'm dealing with parents and children. I'm asking questions that I find fascinate me as I get older — the relationship of the parent to the children, the relationship of marriage, and how those relationships influence each other.

EDGE: And presumably, at some point, you will be a grandfather and that relationship might also change how you see these things... or not.

Dror Keren: Well, my oldest is 24, so maybe it's not in the near future. But it might be. You know the old joke? Why are grandfathers and grandmothers so close to their grandchildren? Because they have the same enemy!

EDGE: An early bedtime?


Dror Keren: The parents!


EDGE: Right, them too.

Dror Keren: Yes... it's a long list!

EDGE: What other projects will you be working on once you're back home after your residency in Boston?

Dror Keren: I'll still be doing "A Horse Walks into A Bar." It's a big success here. And I'm working on a feature film that I'm one of the writers. I'm going to direct it with a friend of mine — it will be shot in the winter.

EDGE: You're a busy film and TV actor, but will this be your debut as a film director?

Dror Keren: Yes, this is for the first time — I'm quite excited. We've done auditions for the last two days. It's a new experience for me.

EDGE: Do you enjoy both kinds of work, stage work and film work, equally?

Dror Keren: I feel that I am still learning from everything. It's a different method here [in theater], different from the States, for example, or Europe. Here, if you're in a hit, you can run for five, six years, seven years. So it's a challenge, a physical and emotional challenge. Sometimes it's very hard in terms of family life. And also, from a professional point of view, because you don't have time to do other projects. With film, you concentrate for three days, a few weeks, or maybe three or four months, and that's it.

I find it fascinating that in theater, [the performance] is alive and it dies in the same evening — [though] it stays in people's hearts. In a film, if it's good, [a performance] is going to stay forever. It comes to my mind a lot, lately, that I have to do more work for the camera.

Dror Keren's residency with Israeli Stage Company runs March 17 — 31.

"What is Home?" :: Performance-Presentation, followed by Dialogue

March 25 at 10 AM; Brandeis University [closed to the public]

March 25 at 11 AM; Brandeis University; Spingold Theater Center's Merrick Theater

March 25 at 12 PM; Brandeis University; Spingold Theater Center's Merrick Theater (this event will be held in Hebrew)

March 27 at 10 AM; Bunker Hill Community College

March 27 at 1 PM; Bunker Hill Community College

March 27 at 4 PM; Bunker Hill Community College

What Life Wants:: A World Premiere, Staged Reading

March 30 at 8 PM, Boston University's Boston Playwrights Theater -- RSVP required at this link

For more information, visit the Israeli Stage website.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.