From the very first scene of “Rehearsals,” viewers will realize the show isn’t sugarcoating how things work behind the scenes in theater, nor is it casting a warm glow on those who bring it to the stage.
In that first scene, we see the curtain call of a play, complete with the actors smiling and waving to an adoring crowd. But as they come off stage, it’s clear that all is not well. The male lead curses about having to do an extra curtain call and is more interested in getting the score from a sporting event. His co-star thinks he was dismissive of her, while another actor confronts him because he cut short her punchline.
All of this happens in about two minutes, and we haven’t even met the stars of the series, known in Israel as “Hazarot.” The 10-episode series airs on Hulu in its native Hebrew, although English subtitles are available.
Those stars would be Iris (Noa Koler) and Tomer (Erez Drigues), professional partners who are, respectively, a playwright and a director. Oh, and they’re romantic partners whose most recent work chronicles their relationship.
We first meet them pitching their new “Echad + Achat” (One Plus One) to the tough-as-nails Mishkan Theater manager Vera (the scene-stealing Eugenia Dodina). She doesn’t seem too impressed, however, so Iris and Tomer drive home disillusioned.
You already get the sense that the couple is struggling and, sure enough, a fight breaks out that night when Iris falls asleep during sex; after extensive arguing, Tomer finally expresses the desire to break up. He leaves their apartment to cool off and, sure enough, a few minutes later receives a text from Vera saying the theater is interested in the play.
And that means that even though Tomer subsequently moves out, he’ll still be working regularly with his longtime former girlfriend, who isn’t so ready to end the relationship — even if she still has plenty of gripes as well with her old lover.
With that framework in place, subsequent episodes detail the production of “Echad + Achat,” while Iris and Tomer wrestle with multiple emotions.
But wait — there’s more drama!
Maya (Agam Rudberg) is cast as the play’s Iris role, but the real Iris feels she’s a bad fit, and the self-absorbed, self-promoting Maya isn’t interested in the role anyway. She’d rather appear in Chekhov’s “The Seagull.”
Then there’s Ofer (Itay Turgeman), who gets the Tomer role. He’s got demons of his own — he’s a TV actor disgraced for inadvertent texts of his genitalia, a problem that resurfaces.
Throw in an ongoing subplot about resources being taken away by a rude Australian director of a competing production — for example, a couch on a set is removed in the middle of a rehearsal — and you have a stew of discontent to navigate. Nobody is content in “Rehearsals.”
While parts of “Rehearsals” are played for laughs, the show functions more effectively as a drama thanks to well-drawn characters and striking performances. Koler, especially, depicts the conflicts Iris faces as she confronts relationships, would-be parenting, personal insecurities, aging and her career.
And some of that pain we see may be rooted in reality. Koler and Drigues apparently were a real-life romantic couple and actually wrote and performed “Echad + Achat” years ago in Israel. They, along with Assaf Amir are billed as the creators of the show.
But wait — there’s even more drama!
The show is not without some real-life controversy because of its cast.
In February 2021 (just after the show concluded airing in Israel), a feminist publication accused Drigues of sexually harassing multiple women, including some who were underage. Drigues apologized, blaming it on a sex addiction; he said some of Ofer’s storylines stem from his issues.
Meantime, sexual harassment allegations surfaced against Shmil Ben Ari, who plays the theater patriarch Shlomo featured in the show’s first scene; he has denied allegations that include bullying and inappropriate touching. Still, there’s a scene early on that hits a little close to home as he pretends to solicit a much-younger actress before contending that he was joking.
So, there’s a lot to unpack for anyone interested in the show.
And considering that summer’s about run its course, but the fall TV season won’t begin in earnest for a couple of weeks, “Rehearsals” makes for an ideal transition from the usual light hot weather fare into a more thought-provoking drama.