From our press release, dated December 1, 2008:
THEATER J ANNOUNCES NEW PRODUCTION OF EXCITING POLITICAL PLAY BY ISRAELI PLAYWRIGHT MOTTI LERNER AS REPLACEMENT FOR CAMERI THEATRE TOUR
(Washington, DC) – Theater J will present a limited-run chamber production of BENEDICTUS: by Motti Lerner, an Iran-Israel-US Collaboration co-created by Mahmood Karimi-Hakak, Motti Lerner, Roberta Levitow, Daniel Michaelson and Torange Yeghiazarian. Running March 14-29 for 11 performances in the Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater at the Washington DCJCC, this production will replace the Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv’s production of PLONTER (Tangle) in the 2008-2009 Season. Tickets are available for $25-$30 (half-price for students) at boxofficetickets.com or (202) 777-3210.
In the midst of the current economic turbulence, PLONTER, with its troupe of twenty actors and technicians from Israel, will be postponed until a later, more financially secure time. However BENEDICTUS, with its up-to-the-minute topic of Iran’s fledgling nuclear program, and both Israel’s and America’s response to it, brings a different, more timely scope to the festival.
With the clock ticking down the final 72 hours before a scheduled US attack on Iran, two estranged childhood Iranian friends, one Jewish and one Muslim, agree to a secret meeting in a Benedictine monastery in Rome in an attempt to find an alternative to war. BENEDICTUS examines the ties that bind, be they family, friendship, or the demands of a nation; which will hold and which will break?
This piece received its first workshop presentation at Sienna College in New York where the inter-cultural collaboration was nurtured and was subsequently produced, in an earlier version at the Golden Thread, a San Francisco-based theater dedicated to exploring Middle Eastern cultures and identities as represented throughout the globe, where co-creator, Torange Yeghiazarian serves as Artistic Director. Subsequent drafts have been workshopped at The Lark Play Development Center in New York, Tashmadada performance company in Melbourne, Australia, and further refinements were incorporated this fall at Theater J as part of its “Ethics and War” reading series, co-sponsored by Journeymen Theater Ensemble. The play continues to keep abreast of the ever-evolving tensions between Israel, Iran, and the US and will be produced under the umbrella of Theater J’s Incubator program for New Play Development.
The play, staged with a minimal set, will be directed by Rahaleh Nassri and will star PANGS OF THE MESSIAH lead actor Michael Tolaydo as an Israeli arms dealer negotiating with an old Iranian friend, and his former cellmate now an Iranian opposition party leader, played by Michael Kramer (Homebody/Kabul). The triangular plot pivots on the role of a cagey American ambassador played by Conrad Feininger (recently Henry Kissinger in Round House Theatre’s NIXON’S NIXON and last seen at Theater J in EITHER OR).
Motti Lerner is a prolific Israeli playwright and screenwriter, whose plays have been produced in Israel, the US, the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Austria and Australia, the majority of which deal with political issues related to Israel and the Middle East. He is a frequent collaborator at Theater J where his plays Pangs of the Messiah, which was nominated for The Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play or Musical, Exile in Jerusalem and Passing The Love of Women have been produced and The Murder of Isaac was twice workshopped. Recent credits for director Rahaleh Nassri include The Skin of Our Teeth and A Bright Room Called Day at Rorschach Theatre, Breath, Boom and at Studio Theatre 2ndstage and The Winter’s Tale at the Academy for Classical Acting (The Shakespeare Theatre and GWU).
Notes Artistic Director, Ari Roth, about the programming decision: “We hate to lose such an ambitious undertaking in the Cameri tour of PLONTER, but we’d lost critical underwriting from our corporate sponsor hotel and that really proved to be a backbreaker. Hopefully next year, our season will allow us to put all our travel allocations toward one production only (as opposed to the many we committed to this season), and the Cameri will make its long-awaited return to DC following its sensational HAMLET. Meanwhile, Motti Lerner continues to rattle the cages, creating a political theater that is both deeply humane, geo-politically insightful, and, as always, shockingly current and frightening. All that’s at stake in this play is the likely trigger to World War III! And, of course, it could happen. Motti, and his co-creators, are imagining the unimaginable, which has actually been debated behind closed doors in our very own White House as recently as last month! We think BENEDICTUS is essential viewing.”