ESRA Magazine
ESRAmagazine categories

A Tale of Two Hotlines...

Manning the suicide phone lines ... a scene from Hotline

Produced two and a half years apart, one in Ashkelon and the second in Tel Aviv, the plays were more like cousins than sisters. Written by Elaine May – Hotline (I) was a first production performed by the Ashkelon Players - a cast already bonded by participation in a 10-week summer acting workshop with the director, Jane.

The script was the original with a slight alteration: one character was divided into two in order to include another actor. The additional character gave an extra aspect to the interaction. The staging was dictated by the place: a community auditorium with a stage without a curtain, no backstage, no sophisticated lighting, no wings or amplifiers. The sound effects were produced on the side by the director and a disc player. Some entrances were made from the audience while others made use of onstage doors. These limitations created a need for invention which enhanced the action.

The two principal actors were experienced and the other four were making their theatrical debuts. Rehearsals of the 45-minute play were conducted over 4-5 months.

The female lead (Michelle Cohen) portrayed a deeply depressed, distressed hooker, ambivalent about her intention to commit suicide. She had extensive monologues over the phone with the Hotline counselor which revealed the many nuances of her complex character.

The stage was divided in two with the help of large screens. The characters in her apartment and the counselors at the Suicide Prevention Center could not see each other. Dorothy, the hooker, was tenacious, needy, castrating, rude, and furious … hanging up and blaming her planned death on the counselor: "Think about that tonight, KILLER!" She signs off.

The play ends before we know exactly what happens to her, but Ken (Bernie Goodman), the counselor on the other end of the phone, after intense effort, has found out where she lives, and his last words are: "I found you, I found you, I found you!"

The play, in a N.Y. Times review when it was produced off-Broadway several years ago, is described as alternately desperate and hilarious … dark humor … so dark that some of our audience felt disturbed by it.

The supporting actors realized their characters fully: Renee Rose and Lorna Szefler, as co-workers in the Center, Unchel Ben Yosef as a delivery man, Gerald Posner as the supervisor in the Center. Anthony Dorf was the stage manager and in charge of lighting. The result was very believable.

Hotline (II)

The Stage, a fairly new, enthusiastic and talented community theater in Tel Aviv advertised that they wanted to produce an evening of short plays. Loving Hotline as I do, and envisioning a stage with actual wings, a sophisticated sound and lighting system, a bunch of young English speaking actors, many of whom had finished acting school, my curiosity was piqued, the play was accepted and so the adventure began.

The play had to be cut to 20 minutes, with advice to shorten Dorothy`s monologues. Four out of the five actors were new to me and I to them but we understood and appreciated one another.

Rehearsals extended over two months, with some of the actors having to take time off for minor events like paying jobs or auditions in London. The script, pared down, left less room for Dorothy`s nuances, and little by little the play changed directions. Dorothy (Adi Loya) became more of a woman with a personality disorder - unhappy with her job and prospects, needy, hostile, a drug and alcohol abuser, searching for ways out of her loneliness and being her own worst enemy. No encounter worked out well for her.

When she finally communicates with Kate, the female counselor at the Suicide Center (Ken, in the original), she meets up with an anxious but eager beginner on the phone line. So she chastises, criticizes, makes fun of and finally accuses Kate of being responsible for her decision to take an overdose. "So think about that tonight, Killer!"

Kate (Lara Vosburgh) is hurtled into action against the rules of the Suicide Center, her supervisor (Sue Field) and her coworker (Debbie Levin.) She goes 'outside the box', and through her eagerness to save Dorothy and by using methods both unorthodox and questionable, manages also to end the play with "I found you, I found you, I found you!" 

That’s telling him ... Dorothy and the delivery man

The actors were so into their characters and into the story that when Hamas first sent rockets over Tel Aviv during Operation Protective Edge, and sirens were sounding on and on and when Dorothy says "This is an EMERGENCY" to the telephone operator in the play, the audience, full to overflowing at Yad LeBanim, didn`t move but laughed and applauded, and the players continued right on, not missing a beat! What could be more convincing than that?

Avner Hadash, in a cameo part as the delivery man, was called up for reserve duty on the second night. He was replaced by Fernando Geco, a volunteer, who had been serving as assistant director. Ossie Kishlanski was our hard-working producer, a vital part of the team.

An acting teacher once told a class about different versions of a play: "The WHAT may remain the same, but the HOW is always different." 



No comments made yet. Be the first to submit a comment
Wednesday, 29 March 2023

Captcha Image


MagazineIsrael- 2019-homepage
There are pockets of coexistence
which kindle hope.
Old cities and very new cities with amazing stories
Find out about the Israeli art scene
The best tours in Israel with ESRA members