1996 play by Canadian writer Jason Sherman attempts to capture and
understand the Israel-Palestine situation in 90 minutes, and insofar as
the play is an incoherent mess, it may ironically succeed, though it is
hard to believe that this is exactly what the author intended.
actual event as his starting point. In February 1994 an American-born
Israeli shot up a mosque in the West Bank town of Hebron, killing 29
Muslims before being killed himself.
fictional American Jew, Nathan, who becomes obsessed with the shooting
and attempts to make sense of it and, more importantly, figure out what
he is supposed to feel about it. (The playwright's conclusion, roughly,
is pro-Jewish and anti-Israel.)
reading and research allows Sherman to fill his play with whole chunks
of the official Israeli investigation into the shooting, along with the
commentary of others ranging from academics like Edward Said and Noam
Chomsky, through activists like Hanan Ashrawi, to journalists and
columnists like Abraham Rosenthal and Cynthia Ozick.
director Sam Walters do find some theatrically effective ways of
incorporating all this data into the play, staging some of the
inquiry's testimony and allowing (in what are obviously not realistic
moments) Nathan to run into Said and others at bookstores and dinner
parties and get their words from their own mouths.
sense of the
overwhelming mountain of data he's trying to absorb is nicely captured
by imagining a nightmarish TV game show in which Rosenthal and others
are given thirty seconds to say everything they have to say about the
subject before being stopped by the buzzer.
device has some of the people Nathan encounters abruptly turning
vicious and insulting, only to snap right back into politeness, so that
we realise the outburst never actually happened, but was just his
projection of what he imagined they must secretly feel about him.
those moments are about all that work in this play.
efforts of actor David Antrobus, the character of Nathan is never made
real or sympathetic. The playwright's attempts to flesh him out with a
broken marriage, an affair with a co-worker, a comic Jewish mother and
a hint of sexual masochism to go along with his moral torments merely
trivialise and insult the serious themes of the play, while using the
Passover seder as a parallel and metaphor only confuses things further.
Nathan's soul-searching and pain at trying to understand what he as an
American Jew should feel about Israel seem so petty compared to the
real tragedies that it's very difficult to care about him and his
self-indulgent liberal guilt. (One of his big self-lacerating points,
that there is something wrong about valuing his own life over a
stranger's, is lifted bodily from Arthur Miller's After The Fall, and
Sherman is not as great a writer as Miller.)
of this is to
criticise the performances of David Antrobus as Nathan and of Ben
Nathan, Peter Guinness, Amber Agha and Esther Ruth Elliott as Everyone
Else, as all strive heroically to hold our interest and some sense of
actually says all he really has to say about the subject quite early in
the play, when one of the first people Nathan questions about the
Israel-Palestine problem says, 'There are no answers, only positions.
remaining eighty-nine minutes of the play really add very little to
Return to Theatreguide.London home page.
- Reading Hebron - Orange Tree 2011