Fair Lawn student leads the line-up in Bar-Ilan comedy
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Fair Lawn student leads the line-up in Bar-Ilan comedy

The student-run Bar Ilan Acting Society at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University is described on its website as “a means for the shy to become outgoing, the nervous to find courage and those who have a dream to find a means to fulfill it.”

Eighteen-year-old Levi Rybalov of Fair Lawn has BIAS to thank for fulfilling his dream of playing the lead on stage.

“My first acting experience was in the annual eighth-grade Holocaust play at Yavneh Academy [of Paramus] in 2008, where I played a German spy living in Havana,” Rybalov said. He graduated from Fair Lawn High School last year and is spending his gap year as a student in Bar-Ilan’s Israel Experience (or XP) program.

Rybalov won the role of Devon in BIAS’ January production of the comedic farce “Missing the Mark” by Michael Maxwell. The story follows a pair of high school-age swindlers posing as Hollywood producers trying to scam rich wannabe actresses. Inevitably, the plan backfires.

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Levi Rybalov in “Missing the Mark” Courtesy BIAS/Bar-Ilan University

Devon is one of those con men.

“The character I played was a conniving, manipulative, cunning, heartless con artist trying to steal money from a bunch of almost oblivious women. He fit my personality rather well,” Rybalov joked. “Although the character didn’t have much substance, he was a lot of fun to play,” he added.

The XP program accepts no more than 100 overseas students each year, and encourages them to integrate into campus life as much as possible. When he’s not acting, Rybalov spends his mornings in Jewish study seminars and his afternoons in academic courses at the university’s Ramat Gan campus, just north of Tel Aviv. He can transfer the credits he’s earning to the Macaulay Honors College at Lehman College in the Bronx, where he will begin his freshman year of college in the fall.

“I’m not entirely sure what I will major in next year,” he said. “I enjoy history and chemistry, and it also wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to study physics next year. I hope to continue acting as a hobby.”

The Yavneh drama was a turning point for Rybalov, the son of Alla Granovsky of Fair Lawn and Alexander Rybalov of Israel. “I had been curious about theater but never did anything about it. After the Holocaust play, I wanted to do it more often,” he said.

During his years at Fair Lawn High School, Rybalov acted in a variety of drama club productions, including a Shakespearean comedy, “Much Ado About Nothing,” and a tragedy, “Othello.”

Asked if the experience of putting on a play was much different in Israel, Rybalov noted that the director was extraordinarily laid back. “We just had so much fun at practice and he was very relaxed, but it came out really well,” he said.

The troupe, including other English-speakers among the general student body, rehearsed about 40 to 50 hours for the two-night presentation. Most Bar-Ilan freshmen are at least three years older than those in XP, because they’ve completed military or national service before starting college.

“I think I was the youngest by far, and I think I was the only one with experience,” Rybalov said. Any singing involved? “Oh God, no, nobody wants to hear me sing,” he replied with mock horror.

His previous experience paid off, however. “During the performance, one of the back doors to the stage wouldn’t open and I couldn’t get on to the stage so I just called out ‘I’m stuck!’ and the entire audience broke out with laughter.”

Theater is not the only extracurricular activity in which Rybalov has participated. One particular highlight was kayaking and hiking in the Golan Heights at the beginning of the program. I enjoyed every minute.”

What does he like best about Israel? He doesn’t have to think for more than half a second. “Better weather, better food.”

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