Results tagged “seven jewish children” from Drama Queen

This week I'm macking on: The output of feature articles on new play producing organizations in Philadelphia. A couple of weeks back, I wrote this piece on PlayPenn for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Now, the Philadelphia Weekly's J. Cooper Robb is covering 1812 Productions' embrace of new work by local playwrights, and the Philadelphia City Paper's Mark Kofta is covering the Philadelphia Theatre Workshop's PlayShop Festival, also a showcase for Philly dramatists. And that's not even the whole picture. I've said before, this is a pretty exciting time to be working in and around Philadelphia theaters; it's even more exciting that now a whole lot of other folks are saying it too.

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This week I'm hating on: All the the calls for a boycott of the Israeli Batsheva Dance Company's performance at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, which opened March 4 (review here). The protest is called "Dancing on the Graves of Gaza," with a tagline that reads, 

"1,300 dead, 5,000 wounded, and 50,000 left homeless, this is no time for dancing."

Of course, if you've arrived here through ArtsJournal's portal, you're probably already convinced that there's probably no better time for dancing in Israel and the Palestinian territories than now. You have to be either a complete fundamentalist or a complete fool not to recognize the importance of the arts during a time of national strife--whether they are used for healing, protesting, exploring, or simply uplifting the spirits of the dispirited. Even more frustrating than the Palestinian Campaign for the Cultural and Academic Boycott of Israel's (PACBI) enthusiasm for this wrongheaded action is news that Batsheva Artistic Director Ohad Naharin has said publicly that he "opposes the violence in Israel." In recent performances, along with examining Middle East politics through movement, the company used music by Israeli Arab composer Habib Allah Jamil. Talk about a missed opportunity.

Meanwhile, Michelle J. Kinnucan, in a widely circulated article on the topic, calls Batsheva "an Israeli apartheid dance troupe," condemns Naharin for having served in the Israeli army (military service is compulsory for all citizens in Israel), and proceeds to make the inflammatory assertion that punishment for resisting service is far more lenient in Israel than, "in Germany in the 1930s, say." Yeah, I guess it would be.

Reaction to Batsheva's performance isn't an exact parallel to reaction over Caryl Churchill's Seven Jewish Children, since that play takes an obvious anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian stance. But they do have this much in common: both suffer from attacks by the ignorant and implacable, and foes on both sides would do well to ruminate over Naharin's idealistic, yet inspiring statement:

"We do what we do out of love, out of passion, because we are crazy, not because we have a role or because we are supposed to lead anyone, but through dance and art, we can show people that new solutions and new ideas can be better than old ideas and old solutions."

March 5, 2009 9:19 PM |
fractal21.gifThis week I'm macking on: those times when the universe's chaos organizes itself into a clear pattern. Every now and then it seems like the ether is sending a message: a particular phrase occurs in a string of productions; you think about someone you haven't seen in 30 years and there they are. Lately, for me, the message quite literally seems to be coming from the heavens. 

A decidedly angry Jewish theme has emerged that began when I discovered Heeb's fake Holocaust memoir contest. It continued in Chicago, where I watched a festival of this year's Oscar-nominated short films and one of the group--probably the one that will take the prize, Germany's Spielzeugland (Toyland)--really irritated the hell out of me, with its irresponsible Holocaust kitsch. (Just because a movie can jerk a tear doesn't mean it's worthwhile. I could beat you over the head and make you cry too, but should I get an award for it?) For the record, my vote goes to the Swiss entry Auf der Strecke (On the Line), which makes a similar point about collective guilt and secrecy, but using a completely different metaphor.

Anyway, next, Menachem Wecker interviewed me about Jews and theater and I got a little riled up, tonight I'm headed to Aaron Posner's adaptation of Chaim Potok's novel My Name Is Asher Lev, and tomorrow, it's Michael Frayn's Copenhagen. I thought the pattern might end in some anti-assimilation epiphany, but no, it appears that what this has all been leading up to is what I'm hating on.

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So this week I'm hating on: Caryl Churchill's eight-minute play Seven Jewish Children, but not for the reason you might expect. I'm hating on the specter of censorship surrounding any hint of an imminent U.S. production (click link above for NY Times article about the play and its potential production at the Public Theater). Of course, the work is polarizing, it's meant to be. And of course it's not even-handed, Churchill's using it as a fundraiser for Medical Aid for Palestinians, though as the Times Online's Christopher Hart notes, 

"donating to Medical Aid for Palestinians seems a good idea. I just hope the supplies get through. Two weeks ago, the UN suspended all food aid to Gaza after 10 lorryloads of supplies, 3,500 blankets and 400 food boxes were stolen at gunpoint. By Hamas."

Maybe it's anti-Semitic, and it's definitely inflammatory. But is it, as the Spectator's Melanie Phillips suggests, an invocation of blood libel? That's just too facile a charge. To be perfectly honest, I've heard similar lines of dialogue delivered around my holiday dinner table by the most conservative members of my family. It's possible to be both Zionist and rational, but it's possible to be Zionist and irrational as well. And though I know I'm opening a firestorm by saying this, there's something in Churchill's dialogue that rings true. When she writes, as an Israeli mother talking about her young daughter,

"Tell her we're the iron fist now, tell her it's the fog of war, tell her we won't stop killing them till we're safe, tell her I laughed when I saw the dead policeman, tell her I wouldn't care if we wiped them out, the world would hate us is the only thing, tell her I don't care if the world hates us, tell her we're better haters, tell her we're chosen people, tell her I look at one of their children covered in blood and what do I feel? Tell her all I feel is happy it's not her."

she's channeling the frustrations of both Jews and Palestinians who have lived their entire lives under siege. They may not be universal sentiments, but they're ones that can no doubt be found on either side of the Gaza checkpoints, and, I'm guessing, wherever there are Arabs and Jews in large enough concentrations to feel an organized antipathy toward one another. The show could just as easily have been called Seven Palestinian Children, and showed Palestinian mothers expressing the same sentiments to their daughters. But it's not, and though it's unfortunate--no, scratch that, it's downright dangerous--that Churchill chose to pick a side, she gains credibility when pro-Israel activists (p.s., I consider myself a pro-Israel activist) try to intimidate the Public Theater into silence, rather than calling for constructive actions such as balanced post-show discussions or twinning Churchill's piece with a play that has an opposing perspective. 

Of course, there's the chance Churchill might veto a balanced slate. But that's where our free press and dauntless arts journalists can fill the void by informing the public whether the playwright is any more willing to compromise than her tyrannical characters. I, for one, would sure like to know.

Thanks to the Guardian's Charlotte Higgins for rounding up UK commentary on the issue.

February 20, 2009 8:18 AM | | Comments (1)
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