Kishon is internationally regarded as one of the greatest satirists in recent history. Kishon’s plays prove that humor and satire is universal and that we are all very much alike. The plays touch universal themes like love, marriage, religion, society and art and have been performed throughout the world for the last sixty years. Some of his plays like The Marriage Certificate and Oh, Oh, Juliet! are considered international classic comedies.
Oh, Oh, Juliet!
This humorous musical comedy tells the story of Romeo and Juliet, had they survived.
Romeo and Juliet, universally considered to be the ideal lovers, experience the complexities of marriage. Having escaped their Shakespearean death sentence, they are presented as a typical couple, after thirty years of unbearable marriage. The play mocks their “great love” from Shakespeare's play, opening with the presentation of their life: They live in poverty, in addition to all the other difficulties faced by married couples; they tend to fight over everything; their rebellious teenage daughter, Lucrecia, continually confronts them and challenges their every move; Romeo awaits the death of his mother-in-law, as well as the inheritance he will receive as a result. The strained relationship between Juliet and greedy, misanthropic Romeo nears divorce, and the two aging characters share their bitterness with two other familiar characters from Shakespeare’s famous play: Juliet’s talkative, ninety- year-old nurse and Friar Lawrence, the adulterous priest.
The ghost of William Shakespeare awakens due to the constant arguments and he is furious that Romeo and Juliet escaped the “ideal ending” he had planned for them. At the end of the play, Shakespeare runs away with Lucrecia, his new love, and almost manages to convince her that they should poison each other with the same drug that was left from the original play. The play is set in early 17th century Verona, and the costumes and set are designed accordingly. The three actors portray a number of different characters, in line with Elizabethan theater traditions.
His Friends at Court
This successful play has been staged thousands of times in theaters throughout Europe, and is also enjoyed by audiences in many other countries
The reputation of this play, Kishon’s first comedy, has preceded it since its creation. The play tells the story of Tsvi Prutchkin, an idealistic new immigrant, who quickly learns that he will be unable to get a job unless he becomes an insider. A note written by Prutchkin’s neighbor, Itamar Levanon—who is penniless but has an impressive-sounding name—does the trick and wins unqualified Tsvi the manager’s position at a government office. The office tea lady is the only one who senses the truth. She helps the new immigrant, cleverly guiding him in his task of running his office.
This hilarious play is a true work of satire on society and work. Fifty-five years later, Kishon’s ingenious comedy is more relevant than ever. Kishon skillfully describes Israel’s bureaucratic apparatus down to its smallest details. Amazingly, his depiction remains relevant and applicable to any and every country around the world. Reminiscent of Bertolt Brecht, Kishon’s work portrays the individual and society daringly, incisively illustrating how society and workplaces operate. This play, which has since become a classic, proves that such an exceptional text has the power to transcend time and national boundaries. Garnering international acclaim, the play has been staged in over twenty different countries, winning the title Best Comedy of the Year in Israel in 2010.
Ha-Ketubah (The Marriage Certificate)
This classic comedy is the most well-known of Kishon’s plays worldwide. It deals with the institution of marriage, both in practice and in essence. The play is set in the 1960s. Its protagonists are Elimelech the plumber, provider of his family, and his wife Shiffra, both of whom were previously kibbutz residents. After twenty-five years together, Elimelech and Shiffra discover that they may not be officially married.
As the family prepares for the marriage of their daughter Ayala, a surprise is looming. Robert, Ayala’s fiancée, requests the Ketubah (official marriage certificate) of Ayala’s parents for the wedding arrangements since he is of distinguished rabbinical lineage. When Ayala requests the Ketubah, Elimelech and Shiffra cannot remember where it is, or whether they were even officially married.
They are forced to turn to the kibbutz to find out what happened to their Ketubah. During their quest, Ayala realizes that she does not truly love Robert and that she has fallen in love with the kibbutz secretary that has come to their house. Meanwhile, Elimelech and Shiffra consider whether or not they wish to get married. At the end of the play, the Ketubah is found in their house, hidden behind the couple’s old photograph.
The play examines the essence of the institution of marriage, both seriously and humorously, as a marriage of twenty-five years hinges on the existence of a piece of paper called a Ketubah. It is a philosophical, social comedy that deals with the complexities of the husband and wife relationship. The secret of effective comedy lies in its basis of life challenges, which comes across so poignantly in this play both through the character of Shiffra, the quiet "little woman" who endures the tyranny of her husband for so many years, and in the play’s examination of the institution of marriage as a universal topic.
In 1963, while the play was staged in Broadway, as many other countries, Kishon was interviewed to explain its phenomenal success at that time: “The play is about the lives of the common people—the family of a plumber. It is important and makes a lot of sense to write about common people, because kings and presidents come and go but the plumber always stays. This makes him the most important man on earth.”
Ha-Ketubah has proven internationally successful, with sold-out shows in theaters worldwide.
Pull Out the Plug, the Water is Boiling
“I am not against modern art as a whole, just against certain flagrant abuses” (Kishon)
A satiric commentary on contemporary art, this play critiques the marketing of random, unexceptional creations as high works of art bearing profound messages of cosmic, universal importance. In his most provocative and amusing play, Kishon raises a failed artist to the rank of international celebrity after an unusual sculpture is found in his home.
Rafael Shlezinger, a young artist, who builds by a mistake a piece of sculpture that is made out of his old and rusty apartment’s furniture. The sculpture is, in fact, nothing more than a stand created by the artist as a support for the problematic electrical wire of his kettle. However, as luck would have it, an art critic that visits his home sees in this simple stand a global artistic truth. Rafael gets enthusiastic reviews and gets to travel to bohemian Paris, for a pretentious practicing program, were he encounters its controversial avant-garde. He participates in the exhibition of the program’s promising young artists and he is supposed to win the first prize. It is then when young Rafael Shlezinger comes to rebel against his own success. He aims to reveal the bald truth and protest in front of the exhibition hall against his own creation. This whole scandal just adds more interest and fame to his creation contrary to his intentions. Rafael finally learns his lesson and understands that he cannot fight bigger forces and better resign himself to his glorious destiny. This is the moment that gives birth to a new sub-field of the modern art movement: “mobilianism.”
In Pull Out the Plug, Kishon raises poignant questions for the perusal of the audience, critiquing the contemporary art industry and criticizing intellectual charlatanism. Together with all of Kishon’s plays, Pull Out the Plug: The Water’s Boiling was staged with great success globally.
Sallah Shabati (Musical)
This musical is based on the famous script of the movie Sallah Shabati (1964). The movie won many awards, including the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Movie, an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Movie and many other key awards at various film festivals around the world. It was especially successful in England and the United States.
The play is a satire set in Israel of the 1950s and it deals with the difficulties of immigration and absorption in the new country; with the absorption of immigrants from Arabic countries by the local Israelis; with politics, corruption and bureaucracy. This play is an international symbol of the struggle between the established and the newcomers; between the educated and the uneducated; between the citizen and the system. Reminiscent of West Side Story, this is a universal work.
The story is told through the eyes of Sallah, a poor, new immigrant who has arrived with his family and who faces the difficult task of quickly adapting to local life. He works his way up to the position of community leader at the temporary camp, which is located near a kibbutz. The story is told through a mosaic of colorful song and dance. Penniless Sallah tries to get his family a permit to move into new housing, while grappling with the arrogant locals and the kibbutz inhabitants that live by rules that are unfamiliar to him. He struggles with the love of his own children for kibbutz locals and learns the local bureaucratic customs with the impending elections, all the while stubbornly fighting to find a way into a new residence and out of the camp. Sallah is an honest and innocent man, and eventually manages to outsmart the system and get the permit he wanted, using his personal charm.
Sallah Shabati, successful in Israel, has been staged in Israel and around the world. Regardless of the setting, this play is always touching as well as exhilarating. As one of the most popular plays in Israel, its narrative remains captivating to any audience: The story of Sallah and his children, in the fifties, in a small temporary camp with political revolutions and immigration as a backdrop, between tradition and modernity. The play also raises social issues such as women’s rights in traditional society compared to those of women in the communal society of the kibbutz; the struggle between people of different ethnic backgrounds and religious bias.
This story is continually touching, thought provoking and meaningful to our lives today. The musical is well known by virtue of its songs, especially the theme song, “Ah Ya Rab Ya Rab.”
The Paternity Trial of Joseph
This satire, set in the year 0 BCE, was written over the course of decades, not on paper but in Kishon’s mind and heart.
Religion captivated Kishon’s imagination throughout his life. When asked whether he would ever believe in God, he answered that there was no chance that this would ever happen because as a humorist, his job is to expose the truth.
Thus, in this play, Kishon explores the absurd and the roots of religious faith. Set in court, this play portrays a paternity trial. The father, Joseph the carpenter (Zimmerman), and Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, are suing for child support. The biological father being questioned on the stand is none other than God Himself. As he tries to place the responsibility on the Holy Spirit, a host of witnesses such as the four Evangelists, the angels that visited baby Jesus, the devil and a few other colorful characters are all involved in the pursuit of uncovering the truth, once and for all. This eternal question is tackled through a combination of bureaucratic and legal terms, and a theological discussion. This religious parody seems to be a completely unexpected anomaly in Kishon’s work, which usually deals with the realistic and the day-to-day.
The Paternity Trial of Joseph the Carpenter has been staged in theaters throughout the world for many years, garnering much acclaim and interest due to its groundbreaking exploration of faith and religion.
The Policeman (Officer Azulai)
The latest production of Kishon's work is based on his award-winning comedy/drama from 1971. The film won many international awards, including a Golden Globe, and was nominated for an Oscar. The play tells the story of Azulai, a policeman who never rose above the rank of a cop, despite twenty years of dedicated service. Azulai is at a dead end, trapped in an unhappy marriage, facing constant pressures from within and without, forever trying—and failing—to learn the rules of the game and get ahead. Through this funny and touching story, Kishon examines the mind of a man in battle against institutions and fate itself. Israel's national theater production of the play garnered outstanding success and enthusiastic reviews.
Black On White
This political satire explores the differences in social classes. The allegorical love story presents a pair of mice in love – One grey and one white. The father of the white female mouse is a “progressive liberal mouse”, all until he hears that his daughter wants to marry a grey mouse. The white mice are sure that man created the white mouse in his image. However, when they discover that the mouse that lives above their hole is black, they change their minds and allow marriages of white mice to grey mice.
The meeting between the two families creates many a comical situation: Both sides strive to hold the meeting peacefully, but when an argument ensues over the quality of sweet cheese as opposed to that of onion-flavored cheese, it dominates everything, including the young couple. Only the meow of the cat, their mutual enemy that is lurking outside, convinces them that unity must remain above all. The play presents an international allegory about discrimination.
Open For Renovation
This play follows several stories on theater life, on stage and particularly behind the scenes. The theater tells the stories of actors, directors, writers and stagehands. In the words of Shakespeare, "All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players," an idea this play aptly demonstrates.