SOBOL, YEHOSHUA (1939– ), Israeli playwright, prose writer, and director. Sobol was a well known theatrical figure in Israel and abroad. He wrote more than 40 plays, many of which were translated into various languages and performed in theaters around the world. From 1992 he directed his plays, as well as plays by others, in Israel, Switzerland, and the U.S. Between 1984 and 1988 he served as Co-Artistic Director of Haifa Municipal Theater, together with Gedalia Besser. Sobol taught playwriting and conducted drama workshops at the department of theater studies at Tel Aviv University, at the department of Hebrew Literature at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. He published two novels: Shetikah ("Silence," 2000) and Whisky ze beseder ("Whisky's Fine," 2005).
After studying literature and history at Oranim College, Sobol received a degree in philosophy from the Sorbonne, Paris, in 1969. His theatrical career started at the Haifa Municipal Theater, in 1971, where he collaborated with director Nola Chilton and wrote the text for The Days to Come, a performance based on monologues he collected in an old age home in Haifa. The plays of his playwrighting decade – Leyl ha-Esserim ("Status Night of the 20th," 1976), "The Last Worker" (1980), and "Wars of the Jews" (1981) – exposed his inclination toward historical drama. In these plays the intrigue revives a historical moment in the history of the Jewish community or Israeli society; by analyzing its socio-political components. Sobol displays the conflicts involved, the process of cause and effect, the outcome and its influence on present reality. His plays have direct socio-political messages and are written with a clear didactic aim, namely to further spectators' understanding of the complexity of contemporary state of affairs and to promote tolerance and compassion toward minorities.
In the 1980s, Sobol continued to probe the past as a tool for understanding the present. In Nefesh Yehudi (Weininger's Night, 1982), Ghetto (1984), Adam (1989), and Underground (1991), he went back to European history, analyzed the complexity of "Jewish Fate," and demonstrated past conflicts and events that brought about the transformation of Jews from victims into persecutors. In The Palestinian Girl (1985) he reflected upon the unjust conduct of Israelis toward Arabs, and in Jerusalem Syndrome (1987) he went back to the events that had led to the destruction of the Temple, showing how the conduct of Jewish extremists fueled conflict and hatred between Jews. Jerusalem Syndrome received bad reviews in the press, and its reception by religious audiences was violent and tumultuous: performances were stopped by demonstrations and manifestations during the show and outside the theater. Solo (1991), performed in Habimah, Israel's National Theater, echoed Sobol's reflections on the reception of Jerusalem Syndrome. For the plot of this play he turned to the life story of Baruch Spinoza and demonstrated a closed, paranoid society that rejected his innovative way of thinking.
Sobol's international career began in 1983, when the Haifa production of his play Weininger's Night was invited to participate in the Edinburgh Festival. This was followed by The Ghetto Triptych (Ghetto, Adam, Underground). Ghetto became world famous shortly after its premiere in Haifa in May 1984. The play won the Israeli David's Harp Award for Best Play. The Israeli opening was followed by Peter Zadek's much acclaimed German premiere of the play in Berlin in July 1984. The play and the production were chosen by the leading German theater journal, Theater Heute, as the best production and the best foreign play of the year. By 2006 the play had been translated into over 20 languages and had been performed by leading theaters in more than 25 countries throughout the world. Following Nicholas Hytner's production of the play at the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain in 1989, the play won the Evening Standard and the London Critics Award for Best Play of the Year, and was nominated for the Olivier Award in the same category.
From 1995 Sobol cooperated with director Paulus Manker on a number of projects exploring new forms of the theatrical experience. In 1996 the two created the polydrama Alma, based on the life of Alma Mahler, for the Wiener Festwochen. It was performed in Purkersdorf, Austria, for six successive seasons. Alma was taken to Venice, Italy, and was performed at the Palazzo Zenobio in August and September 2002.
Sobol received many important Israeli awards for his plays and productions. Among these are the David's Harp Award (five times), the David Pinski Award, the Meskin Award, and the Issam Sartawi Award. In 2001 he received the Sapir Award for his prose debut, Silence, as best novel of the year, and in 2003 the Rosenbaum Award for his contribution to Israeli theater.
M. Zur, "Notes on the Night of the Twentieth," in: Shedemot, 9 (1978), 9–14; G. Ofrat, "Modern Hebrew Drama: Sobol's Night of 1903," in: Modern Hebrew Literature, 9:1–2 (1983), 34–41; Y.S. Feldman, "Zionism – Neurosis or Cure? The "Historical" Drama of Y. Sobol," in: Prooftexts, 7:2 (1987), 145–62; M. Handelsaltz: "The Levin-Sobol Syndrome: Two Faces of Modern Hebrew Drama," in: Modern Hebrew Literature, 1 (1988), 21–24; L. Lichtenstein, "Rushdie, Steiner, Sobol and others: Moral Bounderies," in: Encounter, 73:3 (1989), 34–42; F. Rokem, Y. "Sobol – Between History and the Arts: A Study of Ghetto and Shooting Magda (The Palestinian Woman)," in: L. Ben Zvi (ed.), Theatre in Israel (1996), 201–24; E. Fischer Lichte, "Theater der Erinnerung oder Ritual einer Totenbeschwörung? Anmerkungen zu Peter Zadeks Inszenierung von Sobols Ghetto an der Freien Volksbuehne in Berlin 1984," in: Theatralia Judaica, 2 (1996), 164–87; M. Taub, "The Challenge to Popular Myth and Conventions in Recent Drama," in: Modern Judaism, 17:2 (1997), 133–62; G. Steindler Moscati, "Revising the Past: The Image of the Idyllic 'Village'," in: History and Literature (2002), 319–28.
[Nurit Yaari (2nd ed.) ]