Hello Theater J blog readers.
Ari invited me to post on here an email I shared with him yesterday. It took me all day to remember the password and login for the blog that I created. I feel so distant from Theater J up in New York but at the same time I feel so closely connected. With the performances of Seven Jewish Children and the discussions surrounding them I feel so proud of both Theater J and of Forum Theatre where I remain a company member. The email below was written to Jeffery Goldberg after reading his continued postings and anger towards the piece and Ari’s choice to produce it.
Hi Jeffery –
I feel compelled to write after reading your continued posts on the controversy surrounding Theater J’s production of Seven Jewish Children.
I have to say that I find your vehement attitude towards Caryl Churchill’s play wrong. I understand that it can ruffle feathers but when I hear you say blood libel and propaganda I have to say I don’t see it at all. I first read the play when it was being produced at the Royal Court. I was nervous reading it after hearing the reports of antisemitism. I should also say that I am in general a huge fan of Churchill’s work, and I was afraid that I would be disappointed and angry at one of my favorite writers (and I am disappointed that she has chosen to boycott Israeli theater). What I found instead stunned me but not for the reasons I had worried. I was extremely moved by the piece. The preciseness of language that she uses, the simplicity of structure and the openness of character hit me on a very profound level. In only 7 pages she was able to make me cry, and I consider that a great feat.
As Ari said in the interview you did with him, Churchill was very deftly able to capture a language I was familiar with; these characters are Jewish. They are not British stereotypes of Jews. Even though they were never named and lines were never assigned the voices struck me as true. I trusted her writing. When I reached those lines upon which the controversy is all based I was not reading them as if they were coming from a British playwright, but from people trapped in a terrible situation unsure how to describe it. The words used are horrible, unsettling and do not speak for everyone. It isn’t that everyone on stage holds those opinions, it’s that some do. And the disappointing reality is that some people do hold those opinions, not just in Israel but in any war time situation the world over. I realize that part of what she is saying is that the oppressed are now the oppressor – but she isn’t the only one to hold that opinion. It’s a valid comment, it’s a little too black and white for my taste, but when looking at facts there is some truth. Yes, Jews who were oppressed came to Israel and formed the country, yes, some of their progeny have been involved in morally complicated and at times repulsive actions in Gaza. That’s not saying everyone is and it’s not saying that the types of oppression are the same – who can really classify oppression? But this is the reality of the world we are living in and it makes Churchill angry and frankly it makes me angry as well, but I didn’t write a play about it, perhaps I should have. If the play had been written by a Jewish author would you have had the same complaints? If it had been longer and the characters further developed so that the motivations behind their lines were clearer would you have had the same reaction?
After I read it I wondered if perhaps I was glossing over what others might find offensive because of my own biased love of Churchill’s writing. I sent it immediately to my family, who I know are going to be in Theater J’s audience tonight. I got responses from both of them right away saying that they really liked it and were not offended. Even my father who visits Israel almost every year, and hates every Caryl Churchill play I have ever told him to go see, found it challenging, interesting, provocative and moving.
I think it’s a shame that it wasn’t written by a Jewish author and I think it’s a shame that few Jewish playwrights are reacting to the situation in Israel artistically. There is work being done in Israel but it unfortunately isn’t being seen on a wider scale. If it was perhaps Churchill would realize how silly her boycott is. American Jewish playwrights especially are cautious of controversy, of showing their own emotional reactions to what is happening in the same way that Churchill did. An exception being perhaps the ambitious Ariel Sharon Hovers Between Life and Death and Dreams of Theodore Herzl by David Zellnik that Theater J has helped develop.
I am extremely proud of Theater J for investigating and exploring work that is uncomfortable. I am extremely proud of them for having what I see as the most Jewish reaction to something unsettling: they are looking at it, questioning it and coming up with hundreds of opinions. I am sorry that I can’t be there this week to be a part of the conversations and I hope that the experience is a positive one that allows them to continue taking these types of chances.
I am also sorry that you were not able to see in the play what I saw; something that challenges me and I think in the end, I think, makes me a better artist and a better Jew.