The play now in rehearsal for a Tokyo presentation “reflects in its crudeness the state of our world today,” Rachel Walzer said. Preparing for her role in “What the Butler Saw,” she has “strong opinions about this farce. In it, nothing is sacred, and it seems to offend everyone under the sun. Yet beneath its offensive, comical surface I find an extremely educational and optimistic work of art. I can see the world we have all experienced, either actively or passively, in this play. It contains vitality and humor, as well as boldly breaking every one of the Ten Commandments. Yet the play closes on a note of acceptance. Grudges, revenge and punishment are done away with, while tolerance, joy and love are celebrated. The conclusion is what I wish we all would strive for.”
Rachel’s words bear weight, as she has come closer than many to the realities in the world of “grudges, revenge and punishment.” As the child of American parents, she has dual U.S.-Israeli nationality. From infancy she lived in Jerusalem. She received all her schooling in Israel until she went to graduate school in Vermont.
Sparkling, friendly and analytical, she spoke of her childhood home environment as “orthodox, one which finds beauty in spirituality and tradition but which is also highly judgmental. I grew up immersed in religious values and ideology which enriched my character. But they also created in me a strong sense of claustrophobia. As a result I always had a need to escape the ‘mold,’ question the ‘facts’ and welcome and accept the diverse.”
At 18, from high school, “and a very peace-minded person,” Rachel was drafted into the Israeli Defense Force. “Most Israelis grow up quickly,” she said. “I had been protected, but in the army I met many people from different backgrounds, some Arabs, diverse groups. I learned about other things.” Her training included handling rifles and work in hospitals. She went on a special military social work course. After that, young as she was, she worked “with soldiers who had social and domestic problems, who came from broken homes. I visited families. My two years in the army opened my eyes to new worlds, and contained some of the most valuable lessons I have received in life.”
After her release from the army and determined to follow her own vibrant inclinations, Rachel entered a drama school in Tel Aviv. She went on to earn degrees in theater and education at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “I cofounded and performed in an educational theater company in which we used drama as a teaching tool,” she said. “We created and performed scenes for the purpose of teaching languages —- English, Hebrew, Arabic — and incorporated workshops which followed our performances. Our students varied in age and in background. Our work was serious in dealing with controversial topics and opinions, but we tried to incorporate humor. Using drama techniques, we presented history and politics. We focused on topics such as cultural and religious diversity, the birth of the state of Israel, Palestinian history, the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Holocaust. We also focused on media and propaganda, and presented social issues that dealt with domestic problems and adolescent difficulties. Our aim was to arouse reaction, response or simply curiosity.”
Rachel married. “Both my husband and myself wanted something different, to experience another world outside the pressure cooker of the Middle East,” she said. “Our first choice was Japan. Eleven years ago we came here, and it overwhelmed me. Its culture is so different from anything I had ever experienced. I enjoy being ‘on the outside’ and enjoying the culture without having to conform. It’s liberating.” With her master’s degree from The School for International Training in Vermont, Rachel works at Aoyama Gakuin, where she teaches intercultural communication.
She is a long-term member and performer in the Tokyo Comedy Store, and has a regular slot on an NHK television show that uses sketch comedy and improvisation. She is working on two short documentary films based on her themes of diversity issues and drama in education.
She will appear in the Tokyo International Players’ production of “What the Butler Saw” at the Tokyo American Club from Jan. 31 to Feb. 2. This “comic masterpiece” is considered unsuitable for children.