Aloni, Nissim 1926-1998
Aloni, Nissim 1926-1998
Writer, playwright, short-story writer, and translator.
Balik Prize, 1982; Israel Prize, 1996.
Achzar mikol ha'melech (title means "Most Cruel the King"; produced in Tel Aviv, Israel, 1953), published as Akhzar mi-kol ha-melekh: mahazeh, Sifre hemed (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1997.
Bigdai ha'melech (title means "The King's Clothes"), produced in Tel Aviv, Israel, 1961.
Arlekino (title means "Harlequin"), produced in Tel Aviv, Israel, 1963.
Ha'anesiha ha'amerikait (produced in Tel Aviv, Israel, 1963), Hotsa'at ‘Amikam, 1963.
Ha'mahapechah vehatarnegolet (title means "The Revolution and the Chicken"), produced in Tel Aviv, Israel, 1964.
Ha-kala vetsiad ha'parparim (title means "The Bride and the Butterfly Hunter"; produced in Tel Aviv, Israel, 1967; produced in English in London, England, 2001), published as ha-Kalah ve-tsayad haparparim; ha-Niftar mitapae'a: mahazeh bi-shene halakim shonim, ha-Kibuts ha-me'uhad (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1980.
Ha'dodah Lisa (title means "Aunt Lisa"; produced in Tel Aviv, Israel, 1969), published as Dodah Lizah: melodramah Yi'sre'elit bi-shete ma'arakhot, Sifre hemed (Tel Aviv, Israel), 2000.
Napoleyon chai o met (title means "Napoleon Dead or Alive"; produced in Tel Aviv, Israel, 1970), published as Napolyon, hai o met!: mahazeh ‘im pizomonim, Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 1993.
Ha'tsoanim shel Yafo (title means "The Gypsies of Jaffa"; produced in Tel Aviv, Israel, 1971), published as Ha'tsoanim shel Yafo: mahazeh bishete ma'arakhot, Sifre hemed (Tel Aviv, Israel), 2000.
Eddy King (produced in Tel Aviv, Israel, 1975), published as Eddy King: mahazeh bi-shete ma'arakhot, Mif'alim universita'iyim le-hotsa'ah le-'or (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1975.
Ha-Yanshuf: arba'ah sipruim, ha-Kibuts ha-me'uhad (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1980.
Ha'niftar mitparea, produced in Tel Aviv, Israel, 1980.
Yosl Bergner: tsiyurim, 1938-1980, Keter (Jerusalem, Israel), 1981.
The Spell of Distant Deserts, Shva Publishers (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1990.
Reshimot shel hatul rehov, Sifre hemed (Tel Aviv, Israel), 1996.
Ha-Nesikhah ha-Amerikait: mahazeh bi-shete maarakhot, Yediot aharonot: Sifre hemed (Tel Aviv, Israel)2002.
Bigde ha-melekh: mahaze bisheloshah halakim: setav, horef, aviv, Yediot aharonot: Sifre hemed (Tel Aviv, Israel)2004.
Also author of comedy skits and monologues for radio and popular music halls.
Israeli playwright Nissim Aloni, who was acclaimed for his break with the naturalist tradition of Israeli theater, began his career by writing short stories about his experiences as a young soldier fighting in Israel's war of independence from 1947 until 1949. Born in Tel Aviv in 1926, Aloni also set some of his early tales in the Sephardic neighborhood of south Tel Aviv where he spent his youth. With these early tales he developed an ear for the dialect of the diverse ethnic groups that make up Israel's immigrant society. A sojourn in Paris made Aloni fluent in French, and he further consolidated his growing literary reputation as a translator of plays from both English and French.
Aloni is best known, however, for his original plays. His first production, Achzar mikol ha'melech, is based on the biblical tale of Jeroboam Ben-Nebar's revolt against Rehobaom, son of Solomon. The once-united Jewish kingdom split into Israel and Judea because of this revolt. "By his choice of genre," wrote Haim Shoham in Modern Hebrew Literature, "Aloni showed that he did not believe drama must copy current events according to the 'tradition’ of the naturalistic drama of the War of Independence." Torn between religious doctrine and an earthly love for life, Jeroboam becomes symbolic of the Jewish people. "The play touches directly on issues pertaining to the new state of Israel," remarked a contributor to the Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century: "A small nation with rich religious and cultural traditions is torn between a belief in being a chosen people and a desire for a normal national life."
Aloni followed this initial theatrical offering with Bigdai ha'melech, which he also directed. Based on Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale "The Emperor's New Clothes," Aloni's play is set in modern times and attempts a more universal significance than his first play. Masks are literally and metaphorically torn off during the course of the play, which opens with a revolutionary crying out, "The king is naked." Ironically, it is this same person, who, at the end of the play, marries the king's daughter. "The revolutionary scoundrel becomes more devious and malevolent than the tailors who 'sewed’ the king's clothes," according to Shimon Levi in Modern Hebrew Literature. Here, for the first time, Aloni also employs a play-within-the-play technique, demonstrating, as Levi further pointed out, that the playwright preferred "an art which creates a new reality to one that merely describes it."
With his 1963 play Ha'anesiha ha'amerikait—performed at the Theater of the Seasons which he had founded two years earlier—Aloni "almost exceeded his reach in an attempt to present the paired opposites of illusion/reality, life/art, truth/deception," Levi noted. The play established the writer as one of the leading dramatists in Israel. His work increasingly became known for its absurdist elements, such as 1967's Hakala vetsiad ha'parparim, which portrays the meeting of a middle-aged insurance salesman and a bride in white in the corner of a public park. The salesman is out on his weekly butterfly hunt while the bride is running away from her impending nuptials. Over the park's loudspeaker, a voice urges her to return, as does the salesman. As Aaron Mark Schloff noted in Jewish Week, if you take "a hint of romance and thwart it, take a hint of tragedy and make it ridiculous, and take a poetically charged situation and intensify it without moving it forward plotwise … then you have the perfect postwar tragicomic brew."
In other plays Aloni employs myth, such as in Eddy King, an Oedipus-like tragedy set in New York's underworld. With Arlekino he wrote a commedia dell'arte play, and in Ha'dodah Lisa, he examines more realistic issues in a play that deals with three generations of an Israeli family.
Enigmatic and full of poetic imagery, Aloni's plays have defied easy analysis. His reliance on verbal humor extended beyond his plays, making him one of Israel's most popular skit writers as well as the author of material for well-known satirical groups. In 1996 he won the prestigious Israel Prize. Ill for the last three years of his life, Aloni died of complications from a stroke in 1998. "Aloni uncovered the very essence of theatricality—both the inflated and the authentic—in Israeli theater," noted Levi in Modern Hebrew Literature. Jewish Week contributor Schloff also identified Aloni's singular importance: "In the early days of the Jewish state, the plays of Nissim Aloni offered pleasures to be found nowhere else in Israeli theater."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Concise Encyclopedia of the Theatre, Osprey Publishing (Reading, England), 1974.
Encyclopedia of World Literature in the Twentieth Century, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Reader's Encyclopedia of World Drama, Thomas Y. Crowell (New York, NY), 1969.
Ariel, number 23, 1973, pp. 177-187.
Jewish Week (New York, NY), May 21, 1999, Aaron Mack Schloff, "The Heart Is a Lonely (Butterfly) Hunter."
Modern Hebrew Literature, Volume 2, number 1, 1976, pp. 45-49; fall-winter, 1982-83, Shimon Levi, "To Create a New Reality," pp. 7-9; fall-winter, 1984, Haim Shoham, "Here and There: The Israeli Playwright and His Jewish Shadow," pp. 31-34.
Los Angeles Times, June 16, 1998, p. A20.
New York Times, June 21, 1998, p. A35.
Washington Post, June 15, 1998, p. C7.
J, (formerly the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California), http://www.jewishsf.com/ (June 19, 1998).