FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
March 14, 2009
(Washington, DC) – Theater J will present Caryl Churchill’s controversial eight-minute play SEVEN JEWISH CHILDREN in a free reading at 9:00 pm on Thursday, March 26 and at 9:30 pm on Saturday, March 28 following performances of BENEDICTUS, an Iran-Israel-US Collaboration by Motti Lerner, in the Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater at the Washington DCJCC as part of Voices from a Changing Middle East: 2009 Festival. The readings will be followed by discussion facilitated by Theater J’s artistic director, Ari Roth.
Seven Jewish Children, subtitled A play for Gaza, was written by Churchill as a direct response to the recent Israeli military campaign in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009. The play unfolds in seven scenes, written in free-form verse, with unnamed characters instructing their children—often in contradictory manner—as to how to best respond to the violent, provoking world around them. The play’s sparse poetics touch on the major political events of the last half-century that have most affected Jews, from the Holocaust, to the founding of Israel, to the Intifada and the recent violence in Gaza.
The Royal Court Theatre in London produced Seven Jewish Children in a thirteen-show run in February, where it was met with a range of impassioned responses from the British press spurring an on-going debate over whether the play’s critical take on Israeli policies were anti-Semitic. Long-time theatre critic of The Guardian, Michael Billington argued in his favorable review of the piece that “avoiding overt didacticism, [Churchill’s] play becomes a heartfelt lamentation for the future generations who will themselves become victims of the attempted military suppression of Hamas.”
On the other end of the critical spectrum were journalists like The Spectator’s Melanie Phillips who labeled Churchill’s play a “ten-minute blood libel.” She continued, “It is not a contribution to a necessarily polarized and emotional debate. It is open incitement to hatred. In the Middle Ages, ‘mystery plays’ which portrayed the Jews as the demonic killers of Christ helped fuel the murderous pogroms against the Jews of Europe. With this piece by Caryl Churchill, the Royal Court is staging a modern ‘mystery play.”
The piece will be co-directed by Theater J’s Artistic Director Ari Roth and Forum Theatre’s Artistic Director Michael Dove. Forum Theatre will also be presenting Seven Jewish Children on Friday, March 27 at 10:00 pm and Sunday, March 29 at 1:00 pm in conjunction with their production of Jose Rivera’s Marisol.
“The play is this year’s My Name is Rachel Corrie”, notes Roth, referring to the controversial 2006 play about the 23 year old American activist who died in Gaza in 2003 when she was run over—some say accidentally, others say intentionally—by an Israeli bulldozer, “and yet there are several marked differences between that play and Churchill’s. First off, this play is tremendously taut and compressed, often brilliantly overheard and fairly deft in its construction. That’s not a surprise because Caryl Churchill is one of the world’s foremost playwrights. On the other hand, the play is problematic, beginning with its title and its critical reading of Israeli actions in Gaza, suggesting that there is a Jewish ownership—not merely an Israeli military’s responsibility—for the recent violence in Gaza.” Roth explains that the point in presenting a reading of the play is to explore its meanings and discuss the controversy rather than endorse the play’s message per se. “We’re gathering our Peace Café community—our interfaith forum of Muslims, Christians and Jews—to join regular theater-goers in hearing the play aloud, so that we can experience it and discuss it amongst ourselves, rather than merely reading about the controversy. The play is both subtle and outspoken. It can be interpreted, we imagine, in many different ways. We come to it in the spirit of inquiry.”
The readings are free and open to the public and no funds will be solicited on behalf of any organizations. “That’s something we also discussed with Churchill through her agent,” continues Roth. “That our theater—housed in the Washington DC Jewish Community Center and not allowed to fundraise on behalf of any outside organization—is prepared to pay royalties for permission to read the play but that, unlike other international theaters participating in free readings of Seven Jewish Children, we are not going to be collecting funds for Medical Aid for Palestinians.” Churchill and her representatives have agreed to allow Theater J to present the play, with discussion to follow. During its discussions, Theater J will share artistic responses to the play as well, from authors and performance artists moved to respond to Churchill’s play in dramatic verse. One confirmed dramatic response to the piece will be Deb Margolin’s short play, Seven Palestinian Children. Israeli performance artist Robbie Gringras has penned a short response, The Eighth Child, which will be shared as well.
New York Theatre Workshop will present Seven Jewish Children March 25-29 and Rooms Productions in Chicago is producing the play in a looped format running in the Rooms Gallery March 12-14.
Playwright Caryl Churchill, acknowledged as a major playwright in the English language and a leading female writer, was Resident Dramatist at the Royal Court in 1974 through 1975. Her many plays include includes Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, Cloud Nine, Fen, Three More Sleepless Nights, Top Girls ,and Serious Money, which won the Evening Standard Award for Best Comedy of the Year and the Laurence Olivier/BBC Award for Best New Play. More recent works include Mad Forest, The Striker, Far Away and most recently Drunk Enough to say I Love You?, which premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in 2006 and received its DC premiere at Forum Theatre in September 2008.
Hailed by The New York Times in 2005 as “The Premier Theater for Premieres,” Theater J has emerged as one of the most distinctive, progressive and respected Jewish theaters on the national and international scene. Performing in the 236-seat Aaron & Cecile Goldman Theater in the vibrant Dupont Circle neighborhood, Theater J is a program of the Washington DC Jewish Community Center. Theater J’s mission is to produce thought-provoking, publicly engaged, personal, passionate and entertaining plays and musicals that celebrate the distinctive urban voice and social vision that are part of the Jewish cultural legacy. Acclaimed as one of the nation’s premiere playwrights’ theaters, Theater J presents cutting edge contemporary work alongside spirited revivals and is a nurturing home for the development and production of new work by major writers and emerging artists exploring many of the pressing moral and political issues of our time. Dedicated above all to a pursuit of artistic excellence, Theater J takes its dialogues beyond the stage, offering an array of innovative public discussion forums and outreach programs (including its Peace Cafe) which explore the theatrical, psychological and social elements of our art. We frequently partner with those of other faiths and communities, stressing the importance of interchange among a great variety of people wishing to take part in frank, humane conversations about conflict and culture.
Theater J’s Voices from a Changing Middle East 2009 Festival running January through March 2009 has included Iris Bahr’s one woman show Dai (Enough), the English language world premiere of Hillel Mitelpunkt’s The Accident, the Iran-Israel-US collaboration Benedictus by Motti Lerner, and Akbar Ahmed’s From Waziristan to Washington: A Muslim at the Crossroads. Over the past two Voices festivals, Theater J has brought together extraordinary artists from Israel to collaborate with the DC-based artists including director Sinai Peter, playwrights Motti Lerner and Hillel Mitelpunkt, designers Kinnerth Kisch, Hannah Hakohen, Dalia Penn and Gili Kochavi; while collaborating with Arab-Christian and Muslim artists like performer Leila Buck, designer Shareef Ezzat, and authors Akbar Ahmed, Mahmood Karimi-Hakak and Torange Yeghiazarian. The enterprise has created a vigorous, progressive cultural voice in the nation’s capital, as regionally authentic depictions of life in Israel and the Palestinian Territories—as well as other conflict hot-spots in the Middle East—have provided theater-goers with nuanced, mature portraits of the situation today and in the near or imagined future.
Founded in November of 2000 as a complement to Theater J’s production of David Hare’s theatrical memoir, Via Dolorosa, the Peace Café has become a forum where people of various faiths, backgrounds and nationalities respond to cultural presentations of often difficult issues – usually about life in the Middle East – in an open, non-threatening environment by means of respectful dialogue. The Peace Café is a venue providing an opportunity for Arabs, Christians and Jews to sit side by side, after experiencing a work of art, and, by means of candid, respectful dialogue based on highly personal reactions, begin to create layers of understanding on which a foundation for true peace can be built.
For more information on Theater J’s discussion line up, go to www.theaterj.org. To read more about the controversy surrounding Caryl Churchill’s controversial play, go to theaterjblogs.wordpress.com.