Off-Broadway play about pre-state Palestine goes online
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Off-Broadway play about pre-state Palestine goes online

‘A Walk With Mr. Heifetz’ imagines a 1926 conversation with famed violinist Jascha Heifetz and pioneer and composer Yehuda Sharett

It was the coronavirus that brought about an audio recording of Off-Broadway play “A Walk With Mr. Heifetz” to YouTube.

The play is based on the true-life story of a 1926 visit by famed violinist Jascha Heiftez to British Mandatory Palestine, where he performed in a stone quarry at the Ein Harod kibbutz.

After the concert, Heifetz walked with Yehuda Sharett, the kibbutz movement pioneer and composer and brother to Zionist leader and later Israel’s second prime minister, Moshe Sharett.

The play deals with the reverberations of that visit and conversation on the Sharett brothers and on the creation of Israel, 20 years later.

“It’s a talky kind of play, and I thought the play would have something to say to people,” said James Inverne, the playwright and a music critic. “And it did. The play is so much about now, about art in a kind of isolation.”

Now the play is available in an 85-minute audio recording made under socially distanced conditions among the four performers, across four countries.

The cast includes original cast member and Israeli actor Yuval Boim, violinist Mariella Haubs, Broadway star Richard Topol as Moshe Sharett and West End star Ed Stoppard (son of Tom) as Jascha Heifetz.

(Topol recently starred in Broadway’s “Indecent” and has appeared in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” while Stoppard was starring in his father’s play “Leopoldstadt” when performances were frozen due to the virus.)

There’s also a Zoom video of Inverne, Boim and Haubs in conversation with Yael Medini, Moshe Sharett’s daughter.

The audio recording and Zoom conversation were made to support two charities, the America Israel Cultural Foundation, which is partially supported by Sharett family funds, and meal provider Meir Panim for those in need. While the audio recording will be available for free for several weeks, Inverne is also soliciting contributions.

The play, which ran for six weeks in 2018 at the Off-Broadway Cherry Lane Theater, was written by Inverne in a flash of inspiration. After contacting the family of Moshe Sharett and meeting them and hearing their stories, he wrote the play in about two weeks.

James Inverne, the music critic and playwright who created an audio recording of his Off-Broadway play during the 2020 coronavirus (Courtesy James Inverne)

“It’s about the eternal battle between ego and selflessness when creating art, and it’s a way of looking at the creation of state through a conversation about art,” he said.

Following a reading at a friend’s house in New York, Inverne found a director and made contacts in the New York acting world.

Actor Steve Guttenberg was his first Moshe Sharett.

“It was tremendously difficult,” said Inverne of the Off-Broadway process. “The thing you don’t know as a theater critic is the titanic struggle to get something put on, it’s unbelievably difficult.”

The usual turn from page to stage is seven years; Inverne, who lives in Modi’in, did it in three.

Since the March 2018 closing, Inverne has staged a reading in London and would love to see it produced on the Israeli stage.

“It’s a good play for these corona times,” said Inverne. “Only three actors, sitting together on one stage.”

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