The Chair Wins the Warsaw Jewish Theater Institute Award

Haim Watzman

“The Theater Institute Award for Haim Watzman’s drama The Chair for: an intimate yet universal capture of Israel’s multicultural contemporary society; for showing invariably important and at the same time fundamental human problems, both in history and today. For boldly taking into account the importance of religious tradition, for noticing the role of women in history, tradition, and contemporary times, and for a well-thought-out composition of real and metaphorical space.”

— statement by Jadwiga Majewska of the Theater Institute (Instytut Teatralny im. Zbigniewa Raszewskiego) of Poland on my play, at the awards ceremony

My acceptance speech, which I was unable to give in person at the ceremony in Warsaw on January 16.

It is a great honor to have my play The Chair recognized with the Theater Institute Award of the Contemporary Jewish Drama International Competition sponsored by the Estera Rachel and Ida Makinskie Jewish Theater in Warsaw. When I received the news last week I was so flabbergasted that I was sure that it must be a mistake. I felt like one of the Hebrew prophets receiving a vision from God and being totally clueless, just as Isaiah and Jeremiah were, about why they had been chosen.

Illustration by Avi Katz
That is very appropriate because The Chair is a melancholy comedy about a woman who receives a prophetic vision, not from heaven but from the neighbors she sees from her bedroom window. After escaping from an oppressive relationship with a man who loves her because she represents the oppressed workers he has devoted his life to saving, she wants only to be alone and never to love again. But the vision, not a divine but rather a very earthly and material one, finds the love that remains hidden deep within her. Her story parallels that of the biblical prophet Hosea, except that she plays the role not of Hosea but of Gomer, the low woman the prophet marries at God’s command and uses as a symbol of the sins of Israel.

It’s not only a very Jewish play, but also one deeply rooted in the atmosphere of Jerusalem, the city I have lived in for most of the last half-century. For that reason, I wasn’t at all sure that it would speak to people who do not know Jerusalem intimately. More gratifying than the prize itself is the confirmation it represents that my play has touched people distant from me, in a far-off country, who speak a different language.

I am thus very grateful to the judges and organizers and to the Jewish Theater in Warsaw, and all those who support and enable its work. I also want to extend my congratulations to the other prize winners, whose work I hope to have an opportunity to see on stage. I regret that I am unable to attend the ceremony today because of the Covid pandemic, which has been such a challenge to the work of theaters all around the world. But I trust that sometime soon I will have an opportunity to make my first trip to Warsaw and to become acquainted with the theater and its productions first hand.

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