More Festival Readings: Today’s Tea @ 2 (IDF Soldiers Speak) and Tuesday Night’s ULYSSES ON BOTTLES

This season’s Voices From a Changing Middle East isn’t just about our two mainstage productions set in the Israeli Negev Desert.  It’s also about reading new work from Israel that illuminates pieces of Israel’s past and present, both within Israel proper and in Gaza and the West Bank.  The work we’ve been reading is material that might find its way into future onto Theater J’s mainstage at a future date, or provide a launch pad for discussions in salons and other chamber presentations.

Back on December 21st, we were thrilled to shared the great Edna Mazya’s play The Aristocrats.  The cast, directed by Jason Schlafstein included Michael Kramer,  Susan Rome, Rick Hammerly, Alexander Strain, Laura C. Harris, Susan Lynskey, Sarah Taurchini, Dani Stoller, Brynn Tucker, Carlos Saldana, and Brandon McCoy  (casting director, Naomi Robin)

The plot:

Israel, 1953. Yair Ben-Canaan is devoted to defending the new Israeli state while his wife Hagar is committed to welcoming newly arrived survivors. They are passionate about their pursuits–which leaves little time for their two children, Oz and Devorah. Add to the mix Rudy, Yair’s flamboyant fashion designer brother, and this picture perfect pioneer family proves to be more complex than they originally let on.

Today, at 2 pm in the The Hyman S. and Freda Bernstein Library back at our home base, the Washington DCJCC, we will present:

Testimonies from IDF Soldiers and Inductees: A Tapestry of Voices. 

Friday, January 25 at 2:00 pm
$5 at the door

A program of verbatim, transcript-derived documentary theater pieces. Igal Ezraty’s THE TRIAL OF THE REFUSENIKS, first seen at the Akko Festival for Alternative Theatre, presents the military trial of five Israeli conscientious objectors and the arguments of the prosecuting and defense attorneys and presiding judges.

The Trial of the Refuseniks by Igal Ezraty, is edited and directed by Christopher Mirto and features Robert Grimm, Mark Halpern, Clark Young, Brian Miskell, Ryan Alan Jones, Kimberly Gilbert, Michael Putnam and Hunter Styles, and Ari Roth (Casting by: Naomi Robin)

This will be followed by excerpts of interviews from…

WOMEN SOLDIERS SPEAK adapted and directed by Jessica Lefkow, featuring Leigh Jameson, Helen Pafumi, Misty Demory, Chinai J. Hardy, Abby Wood and Blaire Bowers (casting director, Naomi Robin), part of the Breaking the Silence project–an organization made up of IDF veterans who have served in the Territories in the past decade and who seek to share their day-to-day encounter with Palestinians with the Israeli public.

And on Tuesday, January 29 at 7:30 pm
Theater J presents a VOICES Festival reading of Ulysses on Bottles
at Georgetown University, Davis Performing Arts Center

Ulysses on Bottles

by Gilad Evron
$10 at the door

Director: Shirley Serotsky
Casting Director: Naomi Robin

Featuring Paul Morella, Tim Getman, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, Michael Willis and Susan Rome

Ulysses, a literature professor who favors Russian writers, builds a raft made of bottles to sail to Gaza to deliver books there. He is arrested and put in jail, where he meets his lawyer Saul, a successful attorney who volunteered to serve as a public defender. Saul struggles with a colleague who challenges his authority, and with the priorities of his wife—a relentless social climber. These circumstances and characters combine to create unsettling and in-congruent realities in a lyrical and poetic play.

For more information on all festival programming and to reserve a ticket to either reading, click here

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17 responses to “More Festival Readings: Today’s Tea @ 2 (IDF Soldiers Speak) and Tuesday Night’s ULYSSES ON BOTTLES

  1. Although I did not see the play, I did read the transcript. I was very curious about how it would have been performed given the structure of its content. I’m sure that the courtroom setting made it a much more striking thing to watch. It’s interesting to compare the “Testimonies from IDF Soldiers and Inductees: A Tapestry of Voices” to the Boaz/Goan adaptation of Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People”. Both are, to various degrees, based on real events. Additionally, both demonstrate what it means to face the animosity and accusing finger of the state and the majority. Although ‘Boged’ is obviously about an environmental problem and the ‘Testimonies’ piece is about IDF inductees, both stories are very emotionally charged as well.
    It’s difficult to me to understand what it would be like to be called up for service in the IDF, because I’m not Israeli or Jewish. I can only attempt to imagine what that would be like. Boged is also somewhat difficult to fully relate to because of the details particular to Israel. However, despite the Israeli influence in the two plays, the stories are still very pertinent to people everywhere, especially here in the US, a stronghold of democracy. The plays question what a citizen is obligated to sacrifice for his or her state, and whether it is right or wrong for them to do so. They ask: Should a citizen be required to give up their beliefs to protect the state that protects them in return? How far should the minority group go to defend itself from the majority? I think these are very important concepts to consider in this time of terrorism and other senseless acts of violence. It’s a tribute to Ibsen’s talent that his play can still be so applicable to our lives, even over one hundred years later.

    • Karinne, I really liked your post and agree with a lot of it! Your question you ask at the end about how far should the minority group go to defend itself from the majority is intriguing. I know in the manuscript the Israeli men were drafting a letter about why they were refusing to enlist and encouraging others to join them. Is that going too far? Should they just have respectfully tried to decline on their own rather than making it a show of sorts? When is it appropriate to make a show and when should we instead just silently rebel? I know I love some scifi books that are about dis-topias (The Host, The Uglies trilogy, etc) and that sort of thing and it is always interesting to see what the minority is capable of doing when they decide to stand up and voice their beliefs. Definitely something to think about it. Nice post, Karinne :)

  2. To be honest, I didn’t understand the real meaning of “reading” in theater field before I went to this reading on Friday January 25th at DCJCC. I thought “reading” was like a discussion of the script. However, it’s literally the line-by-line readings by actors and actresses that would be on the play. When I went up to the reception lady, she immediately asked if I’m Professor Roth’s student. I answered yes but wondering how could she know it. She told me because I looked much younger than the rest of the people. I started to look around and found out that most of the people there are all in their 60’s or 70’s. I hope that when I reach that age, I could also form this kind of classic habit.
    Theater J set up this reading in a very nice environment: well-lightened room with free desserts and variety types of tea and coffee. The sound reception was very good in the reading room. After Professor Roth’s introduction of the readings of the day— The Trail Of The Refuseniks and Breaking The Silence: Women Soldiers Speak— the reading started. I was thinking that it would be nothing more than just them reading off the scripts, but not. From the starting point, their gestures, eye contacts with audiences and other actors/actress, their facial expressions, and so on so forth, were all like real acting on platform. For instance, Mark Halpern’s face was turning red when he was reading some very emotional lines of his character Matan; Robert Grimm who played Haggai used excellent facial expressions and tones — some time loud some time low— when he was challenged by the prosecutor of the play; Clark Young expressed his fantastic acting skills included his facial expressions, his gestures, and his control of the speed of reading the lines; Kimberly Gilbert walked into the audience while read a part of her lines, and I think that was a very good way to engage the audience.
    I would like to share a interesting thing that I found during the reading. Every time when the actor who played prosecutor was reading his line, he stood up. And because the actor is a very tall guy, he raised his podium every time. One time, he was standing up and reading his lines, challenging the character played by the actor sitting next to him. And suddenly the persecutor’s pen dropped, and at that moment, the line went to the actor who was being challenged. The actor then reading his lines, keeping his facial expressions as “unhappy” (as the play needed) while picking up the pen for persecutor, and gently placing it on his podium. I felt that was so interesting because while he was playing a character in the play with attitudes, he was still able to do another thing with appropriate attitude at the same time.
    (I didn’t have chance to watch the next reading due to the reason that I have to go back to work.)
    Again, this was my first-time experience of a reading in theater field. I feel so interesting and enjoyed myself there. I hope that I would have chance to experience more.

    Thank you for reading my comments.

  3. When reading the testimony of Israeli Defense Force conscientious objectors, the story by Shimri Tsameret resonated with me. Shimri who spent most of his childhood in south Tel Aviv, and whose father was a combat officer discusses why he is refusing to join the army. Shimri reminisce about revealing to his classmates why he will not be a part of the “army of occupation.” Shimri adamantly says, “I had no doubt in my mind: I would not enlist, no matter the cost. Just as I know I won’t ever kick a homeless person on the street, abandon my child, or rape anyone.” Shimri speak about how his friends saw a suicide bombing at a train station, as proof of the need for enlistment, while he viewed the attacks in a completely different light. He says, “but for me it’s obvious that it is just the opposite: that joining the army encourages the attacks, that the army creates suicide bombers more than it is preventing their entrance into Israel.” Too me as a very patriotic citizen of The United States of America this comment was tough to swallow but also thought provoking. I have always believed that to stop evil, walls must be built higher, soldiers made stronger, weapons made more deadly, but Shimri is proposing just the opposite. He sees proliferation in his country, and the constant evolution of war. Shimri view point is diametrically opposed to the vast majority of citizen in Israel, but does he have a point. Are the current defense tactics only escalating the violence and increasing the hatred. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Is that not what is happening in Isreal?
    While I can appreciate Shimri’s view point, I can’t completely agree. Unfortunately we live in a worlds were radical people indiscriminately kill in the name of God. I’m a firm believer in diplomacy, that being said you can only negotiate with a rational individual. Posts must be manned; boarder must be guarded in order to protect those who can’t protect themselves. We must find a balance between protection and division, if we ever hope to settle a century long conflict between two people who are far more similar then they will ever admit.

    • Louis Sievers

      Brian, I appreciate that, while you don’t agree with Shimri’s viewpoint, you at least respected that he has the right to have that view. I feel that this demonstrates what Shimri is getting at, that when you can appreciate another person’s view, you can have a rational conversation. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have strong cultural and religious ties to the region, but when both sides quickly jump to violence rather than trying to work things out peacefully, this issue will never be resolved. For instance, Israel feels they need such a strong army because many of the surrounding countries want to destroy them, but at the same time Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas in the world and Israel is applying policies that cause harm to the area. So looking from either side, they both have legitimate reasons to hate the other, but without admitting this, a good solution will not be found.

  4. I was unable to attend the Testimonies from IDF Soldiers and Inductees: A Tapestry of Voices and after reading the transcript I am regretful that I was not able to see it in person.

    It is my hope to practice law someday, so as soon as I realized this was a scene from a courtroom, I was immediately interested. I think one of the most difficult parts of being a lawyer is defending someone you believe is guilty, or the opposite– prosecuting someone you believe to be innocent. I think all lawyers, good and bad, encounter situations like this in their respective careers. In a courtroom of law one has to “play by the rules”, and the guilty may get out of a sentence by some loophole. Often, the defendant’s attorney will try to find that loophole. I have a hard time with that idea. I’d rather prove someone innocent by the truth, rather than just some silly loophole. I am a very fair person and want to help people someday by being the best attorney I can be. So for all of these reasons, I was excited to read this transcript as soon as I began.

    There was one line that really stood out to me:
    Jewish tradition is unequivocal: the obligation to obey the law applies only when the law is just.
    This draws a parallel to the situation I would face as a lawyer. I really only want to defend people and win when they really are innocent. Reversely, I don’t want to prosecute someone for something that is legally wrong but morally right. If the law isn’t just, then it shouldn’t be used against someone. This is where I agree with the soldiers. The law said they needed to serve as soldiers, but they were morally unable to do this. Through their testimonies, I really understood where they were coming from and why they felt unable to join the ranks. I really wish I had been able to see the reading so I was not only envisioning their stories in my head. Or better yet, it’d be cool to see a video flashbacks to the soldier’s stories.

    Throughout this entire story I kept thinking of Tommy from Boged. One line from this manuscript in particular seemed almost to be written about Tommy. It said:
    The most famous conscientious objectors in history were treated as criminals and were even incarcerated for their beliefs.
    Tommy was treated as a traitor and was terrorized by his own people for trying to show them his belief and help them. Similarly, these Israeli men were treated as criminals and put into jail for standing up for their belief that the military was committing immoral acts and refusing to join.

    I, like Tommy and these Israeli men, believe that one should always do what’s right, even if it is looked down upon or illegal. One needs to always do the moral thing. And maybe that is why I will be of a different breed than many lawyers someday.

    • Melissa Correia

      Sarah, I thought this was a really interesting response to the readings. Its really interesting to think about which party in the trial is on the right side of justice, and your comment made me consider that although justice is mentioned during the trial, different conceptions of justices are often used as excuses to push agendas or even to manipulate facts in order to find, the ‘truth’. Your post helped me to view both plays in a new light then. What was true for the conscientious objectors, was the destruction and harm that the war and their participation in it, was bringing to Israel and Palestine. However, what was true for the jury, was the soldiers refusal to defend their country,and fulfill their military obligation. So, although we may believe that the soldiers were dealt the wrong verdict, it is still difficult to declare what verdict may have been the ‘right’ one or the ‘just’ one, depending on how you view or define justice.

    • Sarah, I really appreciate your comment because it makes me wonder what the purpose of defending or upholding the law is when there is potential to promote injustice. Studying in America and living in America, I often struggled with this concept too. Just like my father, I also hope to be an attorney one day (just like you). But, I always feel conflicted as I do not want to perpetuate or play in the “flawed game” that is our justice system. Please do not get me wrong; I am not saying our current legal system is unjust or unfair. I just believe that no judicial or legal systems are perfect and, thus, carry the potential to be corrupted in one level or another. In my opinion, this potential to become flawed is derived from a universal definition of justice. Upon pondering this question though, I become further conflicted as I realize that I can NEVER objectively state if one law is fair or another is not. Following the gist of Melissa’s reply, I wonder what defines justice. Is it the sum of a nation’s individual morals? If so, we would have so many differing laws… Or is it the laws derived for the collective good of a nation’s individuals? If so, the ones who may differ are truly disadvantaged, as “Testimonies” has shown us.

  5. I could not attend the Tuesday night reading of Ulysses on Bottles, but I decided to read the script anyway because I thought it sounded like a really interesting and original story. In fact, the story sounded downright ridiculous. A man who attempts to sneak into Gaza via a raft made of plastic bottles to deliver the Palestinians works of Russian literature. With a premise like that, I was expecting a comedy, or at least a dark comedy. Instead, it was a pretty serious look at the attitudes held by various Israelis about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and especially their views regarding those living in Gaza.
    While I do not know very many details surrounding the conflict, the characters represent three distinct views regarding it. Horesh, the defense lawyer with a winner takes all attitude, has a very anti-Gaza opinion, suggesting at one point it would be better to just bomb it and turn it into a beach for Israelis. Another lawyer, Seinfeld, and the titular character Ulysses, are both sympathetic towards the situation of the people in Gaza, though trying to help out in very different ways. The other two characters, Izakov and his wife, take a middle position in the matter. Izakov works with both Seinfeld and Ulysses, but takes no definite stance on Gaza, while Eden, his wife, cares more about planning parties than any of the issues. If they are anywhere close to representing the general atmosphere in Israel, it becomes clearer why the conflict has continued for so long. The people who hate Gaza are the ones who are successful and powerful and can generally get their way. Those who want peace are viewed as crazy, and everyone else doesn’t seem to care.
    My favorite part of the play, though, is the way that the playwright tried to incorporate some Russian literature into the play itself. Ulysses compares himself to both Humbert Humbert from Lolita and Dimitri Karamazov from The Brothers Karamazov. While I have never read Lolita, I’ve read The Brothers Karamazov twice and took a class on Dostoyevsky, so when he made this comparison, I immediately tried to see if there was more to it than both characters simply lusted after a prostitute. And at least the way it seems to me, they are both driven by passion and motivated by a single thing that consumes their mind. For Dmitri this was Grushenka and for Ulysses it was the desire to provide literature to the people of Gaza. And as a result of their actions towards these goals, they both paid a dear price; Dmitri with his freedom and Ulysses with his life. I’m sure there are other connections between the play and Russian works, but I’m by no means an expert in that matter.
    I enjoyed the play not only because it has a strong political message in it that gave me a better view into the Israeli situation, but I was able to relate some of the characters to my favorite book, something I’m much more familiar with than Israeli politics. It also provided a similar message to the one Tommy presented at the end of Boged, if you believe strongly enough in something, than you should be willing to give everything you can for that cause.

    • The comments that you make in the first paragraph are very interesting, and quite telling of what appeared to me to be going on in the play when I attended the reading of Ulysses on Bottles Tuesday night.
      Indeed, there seemed to be every perspective of the conflict represented in the play.

      You bring up the issue of conflicting opinions. I enjoyed your take on this because this is something that was brought up in the after-reading discussion. While the opinions of Saul and Ulysses were given more “face time” in the play, the other characters brought their perspectives as well. The actress who read the part of Eden discussed in the post-reading discussion how she felt very strange having to play a character who seemed to be so detached from the main moral center of the play. But while her character was just nagging her husband to wear a pink dress and entertain sick children throughout the entire play, she did have compassion within her and constantly pressed her husband because this was something that she cared about, even if she was naive.

      There were several different opinions presented in the play, and if anything it teaches us that it is important to attempt to understand different perspectives to solve a problem. If we were only to look at the perspectives of who may be viewed as the good-guys, i.e. Ulysses and Saul, we could never come up with a solution—you have to recognize, understand, and address (not agree with) opposing/conflicting or differing viewpoints. This is definitely an important step in conflict resolution.

  6. I attended the reading on Tuesday night of Ulysses on Bottles at the Davis Theater at Georgetown. This was my first time attending a play reading, and I did not fully know what to expect.

    From the start of the play, I was taken in by the vividness of the actors’s reading of the lines. While I did not understand a lot of the cultural perplexities at play, I was taken in by the general storyline of the play.

    The basic premise of the play was a man who was “fighting” to bring books/literature to Gaza because the children were not given books to read. He was put in administrative detention and endured neglectful treatment in his cell: having the lights off in his cell constantly, having to use the bathroom in a bucket that was not kept sanitary, etc. The reason I put fighting in quotations marks is because in the play, Ulysses could not really fight to bring the books to the kids because there were so many barriers in his way and no one really seemed to understand him or why this cause was so important to him. When he did end up standing up to opposition after he was released from detention, he was shot and killed.

    His story seemed to be a very sad reality for many people who fight for a cause that they believe in. While the character of Ulysses may have been difficult to understand, he was just pushing for something that he was passionate about. So even though I am not well-versed in Jewish or Israeli culture and felt a bit out-of-touch in some parts of the play, I did enjoy the general plot line and how the actors brought the characters to life.

    Because there were so few of us in the theater (maybe 10 of us watching the reading), it felt very intimate and I felt closer to the play because of it. I was very glad that the actors did not just read the play in a monotone manner but actually put their personalities in it. I was pleasantly surprised that at many times, they acted out what their characters were doing with hand motions and got very much into character. I could not rely on watching the play to understand but could only listen to figure things out so I was also forced to imagine the scenes in my head as the narrator was describing them.

    During the discussion, some of the actors stayed around to discuss how they had practiced the reading for 3 hours before performing it. I was very amazed by this because they read so well. Often times, they would look up from the script as if they had memorized their part—I cannot believe they were able to do this after only 3 hours—they were truly professionals.

    In conclusion, I really enjoyed my first experience of the reading. Admittedly, I know very little about the cultural issues surrounding this play but the reading made me want to be more engaged in trying to understand what is going on in this community(ies).

    • Austin Bergstrom

      This was also my first time attending a “reading,” and I too was shocked by how excellent and in sync the actors were for only having rehearsed for 3 hours! I remember we both looked at each other in shock when they said that afterwards. Because of my lack of theater experience, I assumed a reading was more of a simple, cold read-through of the script (think high school English class—my only real source of theater knowledge). However, this was truly a performance. The actors stood, moved their podiums and interacted with one another and the script as if they had been looking at it for weeks. I know this is not a place for public grading, and I am not trying to grade (and if I were, A++, just to be clear), but I think maybe the lack of rehearsal allowed the actors to capture the authenticity of their characters in a way that may have been lost in costumes, lighting, and stage directions. They seemed to feel their characters. Maybe it had something to do with the intimacy of being one of only a handful of people in a large theater, but I really felt a connection with the actors in a way I haven’t before in my (admittedly, limited) theater-going experience.

  7. From my reading of Tesitmonies from IDF Soldiers and Inductees: A Tapestry of Voices, I began to question the worrisome anomaly that exists between moral obligations and governing laws.

    In the play, the five defendants (Haggai, Matan, Shimri, Adam, and Noam) believe it is wrong to serve in the IDF; however, it is also against the law to refuse their service. Although they differ in their reasons, the defendants refuse to serve due to a shared belief that acting against their own conscience would be immoral. The play presents an anomaly in which obeying the laws of a nation means placing the premises of the state over moral obligations.

    I have seen the question of duty to law vs. duty to morals in my Political Theory class. In the class, we read the book Eichmann in Jerusalem by Hannah Arendt. The book accounts the trial of Adolf Eichmann (a Lieutenant Colonel in the SS) in Jerusalem for war crimes he committed by organizing the mass deportation of Jews to their extermination in death camps during WWII. Through this experience, I became familiar with two ideas that I feel are relevant to this play: 1) the cog in the machine and 2) the “banality of evil”

    1) Cog in the Machine: In the Eichmann trial, Eichmann stated he was following orders as commanded by his leaders (and according to law) like a cog in a machine. Reflectively, Noam also refers to this common concept of being a cog in a machine in Testimonies. The defender in the play states that “the most famous conscientious objectors in history were treated as criminals and were even incarcerated for their beliefs”. This made me wonder if there is a greater emphasis on the laws of a society than on the moral obligations to the individual conscience. What transcends above the other: the laws of a society or individual moral code? I feel that I do not have the philosophic expertise (or the space on the blog) to ascertain a irrefutable answer, but it makes me uneasy to think of such a scenario. As a South Korean citizen, I am required to serve in the Korean army for 18 months. However, if I felt that my duty would contribute directly to something in conflict with my conscience, I would take the same course of action as the defendants did. Personally, I would place my moral obligations higher than the laws of any nation, but to what extent would my conscience prevail? After all, it is easier said than done. At what degree of punishment would I give up my moral obligations? Would I? I hope not…

    2) Banality of Evil: Though Arendt spoke about being a cog in a machine, she believes that Eichmann was motivated in his actions by a greater power: the banality of evil. Arendt asserts that the evils committed in history (like the Holocaust) were not perpetrated by people who suscribed to fanaticism or radical ideas, but rather by ordinary or “banal” people “who accepted the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions were normal” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banality_of_evil). Just like Eichmann, the defendants in Testimonies believed they would have contributed to committing evil acts if they were to accept the premises of their state. With this concept in mind, I thought of another question that might be an even greater problem than the ones posed above: If I accepted the premises of my nation, would I be able to recognize my participation in the unthinkable (assuming my nation was commiting atrocious acts)? Matan makes the case that “if a conscience remains only a thought, without affecting the person’s actions…it is not a true conscience”. But, if I were blindly accepting the “normal” or “banal” acts of my society, would I be able to distinguish what is immoral and act against the ordinary? Would I too commit horriffic acts? It’s scary to me how easily an invidual can be led astray by this group mentality of the “banal”.

  8. Last night, I attended my first theater reading, Ulysses on Bottles, at the Georgetown University Davis Performing Arts Center. It was a pleasant experience because I had the opportunity to witness a run-through of a play reading, which was definitely a different experience for a start.

    I must say that the cast was amazing. They only had three hours to rehearse the whole play, and none of them were tongue-tied during the reading- the delivery of the play was incredibly fluent.

    In terms of the play itself, I really admire the role of Ulysses. Right from the beginning, I noticed that he was a very passionate character who had such a strong will to follow his passion. I respect his motivation to teach Russian literature in Gaza and his desire to promote education. From the conversations between Ulysses and his lawyer Izakov, I also began to learn that Ulysses seemed to be a very stubborn character as again and again he refused to give up on his passion to teach. Izakov, on the other hand, was a good strategist, as he showed sincerity to help Ulysses. Even though Izakov insisted that he was doing what he thought was best for Ulysses, I was surprised when Ulysses told him that, “how do you defend me if you don’t believe me?” It truly showed his persistence in his beliefs, similar to the way Dr. Tommy Doany attempted to defend his position on the chemical leakage of the baths by asking the people of the town to believe him in Boged (Traitor): An Enemy of the People.

    I was especially touched toward the ending scene of the play, where Izakov sang “Que Sera Sera” when he found out that Ulysses was shot down from the glider when he attempted to cross over to Gaza. In a way, I think Izakov finally realized the true spirit of a fighter, especially in Ulysses.

  9. Austin Bergstrom

    Like Bri’An and Julian, I also attended Tuesday night’s reading of “Ulysses on Bottles.” It was unexpectedly fantastic. I actually preferred the way this particular script felt as a reading. The actors sat in foldout chairs, wearing their jeans and work-wear, sipping from water bottles and reading from scripts. However, the language is so powerful I feel like a set and costumes and lighting may have just distracted audiences from the words.

    The language was what I liked best about the play. I loved Ulysses’ rant to the (perhaps nonexistent) guards from his prison cell. I loved the way he talked about Russian literature, and his belief that books could give the people of Gaza hope and knowledge and hunger for a better life.

    I think one of the central tensions of the play was between what was legal and what was moral—as in any good activist tale. In the very beginning of the play Saul’s fellow law associate reminds him that their job is not to play God. When Seinfeld won’t stop explaining the horrors of Gaza, Saul exclaims: “you’re not looking for legal counsel, you’re looking for God.” The extreme structure of the legal system is starkly contrasted with the character of Ulysses. His name is significant: his journey (to sail to Gaza on bottles, or fly there on a wooden contraption) is mythic.

    I was, however, a little over-frustrated by the effeminate shallowness and flippancy of the character Eden, Saul’s wife. I realize her and Horesh were supposed to be the so-called “antagonists” in the play. I also realize that, much like the characters in Boged, there were no clear dividing lines between “good” and “bad.” As was touched on briefly in the post-performance discussion, Eden’s motivation was not one of cruelty. She truly believed in helping the orphan children she worked with. However, throughout the course of the play her character is continually marked “dumb.” Her final line in the play is a mention of how she doesn’t have time for reading, and how much she loves “fluffy clouds.” As the only female character in the play I found her particularly bothersome. Even Horesh (possibly evil, but at least a good lawyer) commented on Eden’s inability to be a mother (read: bad woman). Despite her social work, even Horesh had the audacity to call her “stupid.” She was, as she called herself, “something meaningless…a squeak born into the air.” It didn’t distract from my love of the play, but the fact that the only woman depicted was such a typical “dumb woman” was a bit disconcerting to me.

    In any sense, this performance was a real privilege to watch. I could go on and on about every line and symbolic gesture I loved in the play, but I’m sure I wouldn’t do it justice. The best that I can do is say that I sincerely hope Theater J decides to put on this play next season so that all those theater-goers outside the 10-15 audience members present Tuesday night can experience this intelligent, artistic and challenging production.

  10. Melissa Correia

    “The Trial of the Refuseniks” by Igal Ezraty, and ULYSSES ON BOTTLES by Gilad Evron are plays with both show that there are a variety of differing voices and positions regarding conflict in Israel, specifically in the Gaza. These plays reminded me that there is both a personal and a humanitarian side to all soldiers, and people in the military, that does not exactly disappear as soon as they put on a uniform or clutch a weapon. The reality of wars on families, psyches and societies is felt very strongly by those who participate in it. Many soldiers cannot escape the reality of their responsibility for either inflicting or encouraging harm, and often suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder or commit suicide. I think that “Trial of the Refuseniks” specifically showed how and why soldier adopt anti-war attitudes. The stories which the characters told about their lives and about the experiences which made them conscientious objectors, was telling of the factors responsible for forging individuals who are perhaps more sensitive to the social and humanitarian realities of warfare. All of these individuals seemed to exhibit a deep concern and appreciation for their societies and for the Arab culture, which they share with their Palestinian neighbors. One of the soldiers on trial, ‘Haggai’, gained this appreciation from his experiences interacting with Palestinian kids at the NIR school. Another character had participated in the Open Doors Project, and Noam mentioned his concern that the war deprived Palestinian kids of education. Although the trial powerfully showcased the deep respect which these soldiers had for the wellbeing of their society, the outcome of the trial also revealed how hostile those who disagree with their perspective may be to those soldiers, who are responsible for Israel’s military security. “Ulysses on Bottles” stretches the mode of dissent even further, through the efforts of its main character ‘Ulysses’, to sail to Gaza on a raft of bottles. This action shows how far some individuals are willing to go to achieve the freedom that they so deeply thirst for.

  11. Jamesa Johnson

    In response to Ulysses on Bottles by Gilad Evron:
    I began this reading wondering who is Ulysses? I can honestly say I’m partially still questioning who this individual really is or was intended to be. Nevertheless I thought of his purpose in terms of the idea that he was attempting to bring books to children in the Gaza strip and focused on him because he was the most intriguing character.

    I think that there were quite a few literary moments that pointed to the dependence on humanitarian assistance, possibly even the past food crises. For example, “You can’t keep people from reading it’s as bad as not letting them eat” reminded me of two things many people lack in this world; food and education… his language hinted and paralleled these as important and lacking in the place that he was. He also mentions “I am desire’s nourishment. I am the wind that flies the kites on the beach.” The language used speaks of education and literature but hints at food; both of which are equally necessary for improvement of the society. This in itself really made me think about the damaged economic conditions of the area. The individual and humanitarian efforts this points to really inspires its audience with its wit and persistence in an often sad and grim situation. This is something I found that I really enjoyed about reading the play.

    Moreover there was still no real distinction between good and bad, which made it much more subjective about who is indeed right or who is wrong, much like the history of conflict in the area.

    Lastly, the euphemistic use of colorful is striking. As it has many meanings and kept me reading wondering how many more times would it be used, does it mean something different every time it is used? Does the word colorful point to this man being bold? Brave? Peculiar?