Press for The Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv's Return to Haifa and the Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival



Return to Haifa Press Release

 Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival Press Release


The Washington Post

Israeli and Palestinian threads, bound by emotion in Theater J's 'Haifa'
FATED 'RETURN': The Israeli play, with Rozina Kambos and Nisim Zohar, is based on a 1970 Palestinian novella.

By Peter Marks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 17, 2011; 6:46 PM

Two mothers fighting over one son seems reliable arithmetic for dramatic fireworks. When one of the women is Palestinian and the other Israeli, the results are mathematically devastating.

Such is the wrenching impact of "Return to Haifa," the new Israeli play, based on a 1970 novella by a Palestinian writer and onetime spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, that has arrived rippling with heartache at Theater J. The 95-minute piece, performed in Hebrew and Arabic with English surtitles, confronts the trauma of displacement on both sides, Jewish and Arab, so starkly and shatteringly that only the hardest of hard-liners could fail to be moved.

The drama by Israeli playwright Boaz Gaon, adapted from the book by Ghassan Kanafani - who was assassinated in a 1972 car bombing in Beirut - comes to Washington in a production of simmering emotionality by the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv, one of Israel's premier companies. The cast of Jewish and Arab actors, guided by the intuitively gifted director Sinai Peter, embraces the combustible complexity of the story as if character and dialogue were elements meant to be inhaled.  CONTINUE READING

DC Theatre Scene

Return to Haifa – finding empathy on embattled ground
January 13, 2011 By Peter Certo

Starting Saturday, January 15th, Theater J will host a two-week run of Return to Haifa, an adaptation by Israeli journalist and playwright Boaz Gaon of Ghassan Kanafani’s 1969 novella. Discounting a plagiarized version done by the Next Theatre Company in Illinois, this will be the play’s first production in the United States.

Presented by Israel’s premier Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv and its talented cast of Arab- and Jewish-Israeli actors, the adaptation will likely be an American audience’s first introduction to the works of Kanafani. Among the foremost writers of Palestinian and Arab fiction, Ghassan Kanafani was also a spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. His ties to perpetrators of the 1972 Lod Airport bombing, committed by Japanese Red Army members on behalf of the PFLP, may have led to his assassination that same year in Beirut – in all likelihood by the Mossad.

Some Palestinian activists and their sympathizers have objected to the Israeli co-optation of a work by one of their foremost writers, even as the occupation he resisted continues. Similarly, other Israelis have protested the adaptation of a work by a PFLP activist, not to mention an alleged terrorist.  CONTINUE READING



We Love DC

We Love Arts: Return to Haifa
By Jenn Larsen, 3:00 pm January 18th, 2011

Two women are arguing about their son. One gave birth to him, the other raised him. The adoptive mother makes a cutting comment about the son being more likely to listen to her than his birth mother. Many in the audience laugh. It’s a grim laugh, low and knowing.

A women next to me says out loud in frustration and disbelief, “Why is that funny?”

It was a strange preview night at Theater J, watching the production of Return to Haifa performed by the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv in Hebrew and Arabic. Uncomfortable for some, painful for others, odd for me in my role as critic – as the talkback session afterwards becomes a bit of theater unto itself, worth investigating just as much as reviewing the play. I didn’t know what to make of the whole thing when I left. I still don’t.

Two mothers. One Jewish, one Muslim. One Israeli, one Palestinian. And their son, all of the above, or none of any of it. Questions arose at the talkback with Anton Goodman, Jewish Agency Shaliach, and Ari Roth, artistic director of Theater J, that still whirl in my head: Is it a play appropriating a beloved piece of Palestinian literature, as one member of the talkback accused? Is it a play attempting to own a dual narrative, to both celebrate and mourn at the same time, as Goodman believed? A play that makes soldiers unable to be strong for their country, as a mother in the audience feared?  CONTINUE READING

Washington Post, Feature

By Peter Marks
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Arab literature, Israelis say, is not exactly rife with acknowledgments of the horror of the Holocaust. So when Israeli playwright and journalist Boaz Gaon was introduced to the work of the late Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani - who had treated a Jewish survivor with a level of compassion in his novella "Returning to Haifa" - he felt compelled to devour it.

"I went to read the novella and I was shattered," Gaon says. "It hit me in the stomach. The way Kanafani portrayed the Jewish refugee from the Holocaust, that was very, very brave and exceptional of him. I was completely blown away by it and, immediately, I wanted to do an adaptation of it for the theater."

Gaon's project, which resulted in "Return to Haifa," a 95-minute play based on Kanafani's 1970 story, was itself exceptional, and not in the least because of Kanafani's provocative resume. Before his assassination in 1972 in a car bombing in Beirut, Kanafani had been a spokesman for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which Western governments including the United States and Canada categorize as a terrorist group with links to the Palestine Liberation Organization.

But through Kanafani's literary output, Gaon says, he found a man of more subtlety than is revealed in the words of a propagandist. "I think he was able to make a distinction between his literature and his political essays," the playwright says. "Having read a lot about Kanafani and spoken to many Palestinian writers, I think what he wanted to do is say to the Palestinians, 'We have a right to talk about our grievances, the tragedies that have come on to us, without minimizing the tragedy of the Jews.' "  CONTINUE READING 



Washington City Paper, Preview

Theater J’s Almost-Scandalous Return to Haifa
Posted by Benjamin R. Freed on Jan. 7, 2011 at 6:04 pm

To Theater J Artistic Director Ari Roth, the first attempt to bring an adaptation of the late Palestinian author Ghassan Kanafani's novella Return to Haifa to American stages was stampeded by a "bull in a china shop." That's how Roth described Jason Southerland, his former opposite number at the Next Theatre Company of Evanston, Ill., who tried to collaborate with Theater J on building a production of the story of a Palestinian couple exiled in 1948 returning two decades later to their old house and finding it inhabited by a couple who survived the Holocaust and raised the son the Palestinian couple left behind.

Kanafani, killed by a car bomb in 1972, was one of the leaders of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine but also with Return to Haifa a rare Palestinian author who treated Jewish characters humanely. That's how the Israeli playwright Boaz Gaon saw it in 2008 when he penned a Hebrew-language adaptation authorized by the Kanafani estate and staged it at Tel Aviv's Cameri Theatre.

How Return to Haifa eventually made it to Theater J is a bit of a twisted story  CONTINUE READING

Washington Post Express, Preview

Complicated in Any Language: 'Return to Haifa,' at Theater J

Return to Haifa by Moshe Shai
With an emotionally and politically charged plot, the Israeli play "Return to Haifa" is understandably big on communication.

Yet in Theater J's D.C. production, opening Saturday, the story might not sound easily understood: The characters speak only Hebrew and Arabic.Â

Nothing will be lost in translation, director Sinai Peter promises. With English surtitles, "Return" is almost exactly the same show that garnered acclaim in Tel Aviv in the past two years. As the play was performed in Israel, "the main goal of the actors is to tell a touching story."

The tale, Peters says, "is, on one level, a very good melodrama, and on the other level, a metaphor, an allegory of the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict." While it would be easy to weave a political message into the play, "Return" aims to simply share perspectives. "We give mutual respect to both sides," he says. "Of course, after you experience the play, you have to challenge yourself with, 'What do we do now?'"  CONTINUE READING