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Most Cruel The King / Nissim Aloni - Impressions and Expressions of Ijon
June 24th, 2002
01:51 am

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Most Cruel The King / Nissim Aloni
Months ago, pelig informed me that I must read a play called Most Cruel The King, by noted Israeli playwright Nissim Aloni. In the recent Book Week festival, I picked up a copy of the play, and on a whim decided to read it today.

The play is set in the wake of King Solomon's reign, when Rehoboam is about to be crowned. Jeroboam, son of Nebat (Nevat in the original Hebrew), is planning rebellion against the slovenly heir to the ostentatious King Solomon, pleading for tax (or perhaps tribute is a better word here) reduction, and the abolition of forced labor, such as the lumberjack brigade sent to Lebanon for building lumber. The plot thickens, of course, through a Jeroboam's fanatic mother, Rehoboam's wife and her forbidden desires, a recalcitrant priest, and a double agent.

But the story is not what makes the play so good (and it is very good). It is the prose -- biblical Hebrew with the color of Hamlet's soliloquies; dramatized biblical situations (reminding me of Wilde's Salome) cast in living Hebrew tasting of the biblical land of Israel; and strong monologues. The final monologue, in the third act, is particularly strong, and its words carry through, beyond the play and into Aloni's day and ours. The play was first produced in 1953 (at the Habima National Theater), and caused much outcry and debate (even reaching the Israeli parliament), but we would still do well to heed its cry today.

I join pelig in recommending it without reservation.

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