Touch Down, Night One, Day Two

So to answer the first Major Dramatic Question of the Journey: I stayed awake for both shows last night and really loved being into each of them! Brief write ups and run downs of Winter at Qalandiya and The Master of the House to follow. Wound up staying at the Cameri till well past midnight for the opening night reception where everyone at the festival, visiting producers and native playwrights, directors, producers and conference planners alike all introduced themselves. An array of guests from all over the world – from Nigeria, Prague, Hong Kong, Sophia, Warsaw, Malmo Sweden, and on and on (plenty of producing folk – particularly from Boston and New York). After dropping off stuff at the Center hotel, went with four fine folks for drinks on the beach till 2:45, came back and wound up IM-ing with my Isabel in Oberlin until 3:45 AM. Was so jazzed from the day and the night and the dialogue and the caffeine that I didn’t fall asleep till close to 5. Woke up at 8:15 without an alarm and was so amazed and impressed with myself that I’d actually roused myself early without help from the front desk that I said, “Okay, five more minutes rest.” I wound up sleeping through the first morning symposium! By 11:00 AM I was showering and soon out the door, showing up to catch the tail end of the conference’s first “Spotlight” – this on the plays of Savyon Liebrecht. I caught enough to make me want to read 4 of her plays and then chatted with her after. (I’ll talk more about her plays and who she is in the next entry; but just to let our great TJ friend Elaine Reuben know that, even though I slept through the good stuff, I did say hi to Savyon from you and remembers you clearly — who doesn’t?)

Had an amazingly international luncheon with Peter Mudamba of Nairobi, Kenya who’s directed four Hanoch Levin plays in Kenya and directed a bang-up production of Shmuel Hasfari’s The Master of the House, the play we saw at the Cameri last night. And my Australian buddy, Deborah Leiser-Moore was there together with the Portland based director-educator-new producer Sasha Reich, who’d spent 10 years here in Israel. We talked about the differences in dramatic structures practiced by European, Israeli and American dramatists. The different demands placed on those writers, in general, by their audiences. Was fascinating to hear how Hanoch Levine played in Kenya. We now have an hour before performances at Tzavta nightclub, and then a full evening back at the Cameri. So to begin on the decompression of the theater pieces themselves, shall we?We come to the Arab-Hebrew Theatre of Jaffa for a 6 pm orientation to this gorgeous company housed in a 500 year old building. The site was originally a Court House and part of the Jaffa city government under the Turks and at other times was an olive soap factory owned by the Dajani family, which is terribly significant to our Washington Peace Café community because our wonderful friend in the Peace Café, Aref Dajani is descendent of the Dajani family of Jaffa. He knows the story of Arab dispossession of land, property and way of life better than most. I want to quote from a recent email from Adam LeBor, author of the newly published, fascinating chronicle of 6 families (three Arab, three Israeli) called “City of Oranges, An Intimate Story of Arabs and Jews in Jaffa.” In LeBor’s public posting (passed on by our good friend Jamal Najjab), he writes of his recent book tour to the States:

“I met Aref at Busboys and Poets, a bookshop in Shirlington, Virginia, which hosts regular peace cafés bringing together Arabs, Jews, anyone interested in dialogues rather than monologues. The owner, Andy Shallal, who was born in Iraq, works with Stephen Stern at the Jewish community centre in Washington, DC. Aref read extracts from ‘City of Oranges’, and I was touched to hear to hear a true son of Jaffa reading my words about his family’s home city. Aref has never been to Israel, and told me of his nervousness about going there, and his fears that it would radicalize him. “Go, I told him. Go and see how Bayt Dajan has been renamed Beit Dagan in Hebrew, how the Dajani orange groves no longer exist, and your family’s lands have been appropriated by the state. You will be angry, but that anger will pass. And see also how the Dajani soap factory in Old Jaffa is now the Arab-Hebrew theatre, where Jews and Arabs put on joint productions in both languages, a microcosm of a possible future peace, a place to give space to one another’s narratives without judging. And then come home to the United States. And we can talk some more, and maybe, one day, the ADL, the Israeli consulate and mainstream Jewish organizations will join us.”

So all that’s very interesting, yes? This great 10 year old company comprised of an amalgam of an Israeli and an Arab company – the longstanding Arab company Al Sayarah does its own work under the overall umbrella and also collaborates with Israeli Jewish artists on work that’s both political but often not political at all. I want to bring this company to DC very badly and recreate that sense and environment that’s so atmospheric in Jaffa – just to get a sense of that revivified multicultural history for a DC/Peace Café/Theater J crowd would be so uplifting. But what play, or plays, to present?Last night we saw WINTER AT QALANDIYA, based on the memoir by Machsom Watch (“Checkpoint Monitor”) Lai Nirgad, adapted and directed by Avant Garde pioneer, Nola Chilton. I wanted to love this show a lot. And I rooted for it all the way through. 14 actors and white a sandblasted stage with white sandbags and a monitoring platform and, most evocative of all, white dummy figures of old ladies in wheel chairs, and young children – hand held life size puppets to compliment a much vaster collection of figures waiting in endless lines in the background, or people fallen by the wayside.The piece is at once a docu-dramatic recreation told in compressed time of the drama of waiting to get through the Qalandiya checkpoint. (more soon, interrupted)…Ah, and so here’s the rub. It’s now 8 hours later. I can’t possibly do a rundown of EVERYTHING else I’ve seen today, can I?Ah, but I must. “B’kitzur” – Quickly! And so.QALANDIYA – bottom line, I liked it much more than the other festival-goers. They find the acting and presentation a little primitive. A play that plateaus and, while having good sympathies, fails to tell us anything new. I sort of strenuously disagree with these carping voices. I’ve been to Qalandiya checkpoint, as has Andy Shallal, as has Aaron Davidman, and we’ve all been writing about it in what form or another, and I love that an entire play takes up residency there and reflects a youthful take with some very believable interchanges. I don’t need the show to break into musical numbers quite so often – little duets for the young female soldiers back at the base singing about growing up with a joy stick and computer mouse in their hands, inured to the true hardships the military is inflicting – forget inured; they’re clearly blind to it. So the play’s design is to make us less blind and put a series of human and heartbreaking faces (even with puppets) on the tale of daily humiliation.In short, I like it, others don’t, and I wind up questioning whether it’s really smart for me to pay attention to what others think since they may be a good reflection of DC audiences. I leave loving the Jaffa theater as I always have and look forward to returning there tomorrow.The five other write ups will come in part two of this entry, to be posted first thing in the morning, to give you readers some rest! But I’ll keeping writing now!