Program notes from the Artistic Director, Ari Roth
Welcome to the continuation of our Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival. This year the voices are more cacophonous and clamoring than ever. We opened with Iris Bahr’s Dai (Enough), which brought to life—and then to the brink of catastrophe—ten denizens of a Tel Aviv café: right wingers, left-wingers, a Palestinian, a Russian émigré, a German expatriate; the vox populi of a land under potboiler pressure; the cries of lives being lived out loud.
And now we come to the robust voices of Hillel Mitelpunkt’s The Accident and Motti Lerner’s Iranian-Israeli-American collaboration, Benedictus. Both plays come from the pens of major Israeli playwrights, internationally recognized for their profound and provocative bodies of work.
The Accident is both a morality drama of universal resonance and a very particular series of snap-shots about Israeli upper-middle class existence and the costs of sustaining its pursuit of happiness. Sexual and spiritual fulfillment come at a cost (especially as one looks for it outside the family). A standard of living must be maintained (on the backs of underpaid, often foreign-born workers). And casualties often go unreported as we look away, or drive away, or edit away that which might get in the way of our loftier aspirations. The Accident was chosen to anchor this year’s festival because it reveals much about the Israeli character and trains its focus not on the more familiar tropes of “The Conflict” but on the personal travails within a set of adult relationships. It’s a play of haunting reminders and cautionary warnings. And it’s also about the need for cleansing inquiry, for reckoning, and for retreat from the frontlines of domestic warfare. Sometimes the battles in this verbal wrestling match are as corrosive as anything in Albee, blistering and withering and theatrically refreshing. The play is an exhilarating slap in the face; a romantic, contemporary film noir for the stage, with flickers of hope and catharsis breaking through the cloud cover of crime and injustice.
To bring this candid portrait of Israeli society to life we welcome back Sinai Peter who delivered a knockout punch of a production in Motti Lerner’s Pangs of the Messiah in 2007. Sinai is rejoined by his Israeli compatriot, composer Hannah Ha-kohen and a new collaborator, Gili Kochavi. We thank the Embassy of Israel for once again supporting this illuminating international collaboration between Israeli and American artists.
And speaking of international collaboration, what could be more rich in its broad conception and particular detail than Benedictus? A timely nail-biter of a diplomatic drama, the play taps into our current high-stakes confrontation with Iran by imagining a future threat informed by a common past for three central characters, a Muslim, a Jew and a Christian. It shows Israelis consumed with worry about the future, their own and those of family members living outside of Israel. Like The Accident, Benedictus is about lies, which are the weapons of choice in these combustible dramas. But the truth turns out to be the most explosive detonator of all.
Join us for cast discussions, Peace Cafés, and panels with activists and experts throughout the runs of both shows. And don’t miss our other festival offering: the world premiere of Akbar Ahmed’s stirring memoir monologue, Waziristan to Washington: A Muslim at the Crossroads on March 23rd. It’s a courageous piece written by a peace warrior, as are all of our offerings this festival. – Ari Roth