A Challenge Grant, a Challenging (Great) Play and a Great (and Wonderful) Collaboration

Don’t you love that picture of the cast, crew and creative team of PANGS OF THE MESSIAH? It’s great. Thanks to Hannah for posting; to Delia for taking; and to cast member JJ Johnston for loaning the camera! What a labor of love this play has been. What a unique Israeli-American partnership of a blisteringly fierce work. And what a strange combination of going for the jugular and affirming the values of “Israel the Beautiful,” the land of democracy and self-reflection through the process of art making. (Yes, Israel is still that too – a beautiful home to extraordinary people – people fighting to make their home a more just, more cultured, more habitable place.)

The making of this play posits a new kind of alliance between America and Israel; the other kind of Israel-American partnership in the 21st Century; artists and lay-folk coming together to tell the truth about life in Israel and the territories and telling the truth about Israel’s history too. And once again, loving Israel and its people in the process; because of the process of being collectively committed to seeing the whole picture and talking about it.

We are two previews into PANGS… Four of the five Israeli artists have now left. There is a hole in the heart after a weekend of full feeling. Today was a day of recovering from the exhileration of getting through tech and dress rehearsals and realizing that we have a major play on our hands. From that overtime exertion, today was also about returning to reading new scripts and yes, more fundraising. When, at the 6 O’clock hour, we discovered that we’d been issued a challenge gift from the incredibly generous (and successful) investor Mark Ein to help us bridge the $18,000 gap we have with 6 days remaining in the fiscal year. If we raise $10,000 we get $10,000 more! And won’t that be a happy July 1 when we do!

So tomorrow is about meeting that challenge. More follow up calls and emails and crossing of fingers that people will step forward with contributions of $100, $200 or more so that we can get $10,000 raised by Sunday, and get the heck out of this fiscal year with no blood on the tracks.

Frankly it’s been a holy effort – or do I mean holy war? – and I’m disappointed that I vowed not to blog until we got real close to staunching the gap. I resurface now to proclaim a light at the end of the tunnel.

More thoughts to follow on PANGS. For now, let’s hear from our audience. What follows is a series of three unedited emails: keep reading

#1) from a member of Footlights – a superb theater going group:

Ok, I am usually just a lurker on this list but I had such a fabulous
theater experience on Saturday I just had to share…

On Saturday night I saw Pangs of the Messiah – mentioned in Karen’s Hot Tips
email. I saw the first public performance of the play in English and it was
superb. Both a well done performance as well as a wonderful play. The play
can be seen both for the political story – but it was also a story of a
family struggling from within – which I think is very universal experience.
I was on the edge of my seat for most of the performance trying to just take
it all in – the storyline, relationships among the characters, the wonderful
set, and of course the complex political story.

After Saturday’s night’s performance we were very lucky to have the
playwright and the JCC creative director available after the show to get the
audience’s impression – which was a great opportunity to hear everyone
else’s reactions but also to get a better understanding and insight into
what influenced the playwright in writing the story as he did. I believe
the theater is planning on having a number of post-play discussions on
Thursdays and Sundays – which I only imagine will add to the experience of
the play and understanding of the issues that the play deals with.

(from Karen’s Hot Tips email)#6 of 11: Tues/Wed.6/26+27 @ 7:30, PWYC
Previews: PANGS OF THE MESSIAH, by Motti Lerner. Theater J, at DCJCC, 1529
16th St NW DC (at Q, Metro Dupont circle). http://www.theaterj.org/. B.o.
opens 1.5 hrs pre-show. Runs 6/23-7/22

And the next email:

From one of our council members:

Adrienne and I saw the first preview night of the new Theater J offering, Pangs of the Messiah, on Saturday night.
We found the play riveting and provocative, easily offering more dramatic tension than any play I can recall
seeing in the past year. Although, in full disclosure, I have an ostensible “ax to grind”, being on the Theater J Council,
that doesn’t make all their plays “really good”. This one, by well-known Israeli playwright, Motti Lerner, is. It is one
of those unusual plays driven by plot, character, and theme, where all are important.

The play is a “family drama” taking place in the year 2012 in a home on a settlement in the West Bank. The father, Shmuel, a rabbi, is the leader
of all West Bank settlers. The Israeli government is about to sign a peace accord to result in the formation of a Palestinian state,
forcing the relocation of most settlers. Without advocating a political position, Lerner paints a picture of a family in crisis and
a country in crisis, forcing the audience to confront and revisit critical questions of leadership, family loyalty, and fundamentalism, among others.

Do you ever snooze just a bit during Act I of plays (no listserve answers required on this one)? Don’t worry. You won’t snooze at Pangs.

A finallty, a tougher reaction, with plenty of suggestions for making the play more “balanced.”

I saw Pangs of the Messiah at Theater J last night.
You asked for comments. Here are mine.

The playwright had the great foresight to suggest in 1986 that extremist
settlers might assassinate an Israeli prime minister. I am very impressed.
Unfortunately, his wake up call was not taken seriously enough by Prime
Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ariel Sharon. They coddled Jewish extremists.

I saw a news clipping of Yigal Ami doing some violent activity the summer
before he assassinated Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin. He should have been
jailed then. A number of the violent people at the withdrawal from Gaza,
were doing known violent things earlier and they are now free to do
violent things at the next withdrawal.

This play is definitely immensely powerful. But, describing this play as
a portrayal of Israeli settlers is as misleading as describing a play
about Al Quada as a play about Muslims. I fear that many viewers will
leave with the misimpression that the characters are typical Israeli

“Pangs of the Messiah, is a harrowing yet humane depiction of an extended
family of eight West Bank settlers who resist the dismantling of their
settlement and an impending Peace Accord between the Israeli Government
and the Palestinian Authority”

But, the play provides little hint as to why the settlers are resisting
the dismantling of their settlement.

The play could use some lines describing the religious attachment to the
West Bank as well as a line about how Rachel’s tomb was desecrated when
under Palestinian control.

The play could use some lines describing the settlers’ perception of the
military importance of the settlement. As well as a line about how the
withdrawal from Gaza resulted in the current daily rocket fire into the
Israeli town of Sderot (not a settlement).

Devoid of such lines, the play gives the impression that the settlers are
just being capricious.

The characters disparage other settlers who may be willing to accept
compensation for moving. But, the play provides little hint as to why
other settlers may be willing to accept compensation.

The play could use some lines noting that some, perhaps many settled
because it was considered a patriotic act; these settlers would be happy
to move out when the government announces a peace treaty and says that now
the patriotic thing to do is move. This describes a friend of mine in
Beersheba, Israel (1981) who had been a settler in Sinai and left after
the peace with Egypt.

The play could use some lines noting that most were economic setters.
They traded overcrowded apartments for much larger and more comfortable
apartments or houses on the West Bank. Providing them with slightly more
comfortable apartments In Israel proper would probably be sufficient to
lure them to relocate.

Devoid of such lines, the play gives the false impression that all the
settlers are there for messianic reasons.

The reality was that the bulk of the settlers did depart both Sinai and
Gaza peacefully.

“This play is a fever dream and a wake up a call,” notes Theater J
Artistic Director, Ari Roth. “It’s a haunted prophetic vision of the way
things might spin wildly out of control if the worst impulses take hold
within an embattled movement.”

Agreed. But, to me, it is far scarier the way things are LIKELY to spin
wildly out of control when the STANDARD impulses take hold within a WELL
FINANCED movement (like Hamas, Herzbolah and Iran) dedicated to the
destruction of Israel.

For balance, Theater J should produce plays, which are a fever dream and a
wake up call of Iran, with atomic bombs and of Herzbolah firing a hundred
missiles a day at Tel Aviv (Iran has supplied Herzbolah with such
missiles.) Last summer, much of Haifa evacuated to Tel Aviv. Where will
Tel Aviv evacuate to?

The playbill has a “cute” pacifist poem in a side bar entitled: “How long
will this cycle of violence continue?” For balance, the playbill should
also have included: The answer from Hamas, Herzbolah and Iran is when
Israel is destroyed.