Latest Review and Report from the Rehearsal Room

Two at once here, and that’s how it’s gonna stay, as ANDY WARHOL: GOOD FOR THE JEWS enters its 2nd weekend with us while IN DARFUR completes its 2nd week of rehearsal.

So first the round up. Friday’s rave review in DC THEATRESCENE is followed by today’s more mixed appreciation by Peter Mark (yikes! I almost wrote “Frank Rich” – talk about old habits dying hard!). Pull quotes abound but it’s also true that the overall assessment, tucked into a reductively downbeat headline, sums up a basic attribute of the play; that it’s more about Josh than Andy; more Kornbluth than Warhol; go figure.) Here’s our take-aways:

“amiable… art history and personal history [placed] into the genial writer-performer’s trademark socio-political blender.”

“Kornbluth serves up interesting tidbits about the artist’s life and how he chose the photographs he would rework to create his gallery, from Golda Meir to the Marx Brothers.”

“Provokes a deeper reflection of both the writer’s own Jewishness and Warhol’s motives in distilling Jewish achievement down to a pop-cultural conceit.”

“As a theatrical backdrop, the collection conveys a deeply moving sense of gravity. The breadth of accomplishment that the serene-looking faces represent seems a silent testament not only to a people’s intellectual scope, but also its skills at reinvention.”

“What he has to say can be enlightening, particularly when he manages to boil down the ideas of a complex thinker such as the philosopher Buber.”

As for IN DARFUR, I want to share with you my own little introductory piece. But before I do, how bout this little gem of hyper specific research, from our production dramaturg on the show, Taylor Lee Hitaffer (working under the tutelage of Theater J resident dramaturg, Shirley Serotsky). The subject of “worms” has come up, based on the action line in Scene 10 of the play, where Carlos (as aid worker played by Lucas Beck) is listening to the reports of a Sudanese doctor (Carl James) about a patient whose intestines are dangerously blocked by worms. But what kind of worms, comes the question from the rehearsal room? How is this condition different from what we might encounter in the US?

The dramaturg’s reply begins:

I would say that the patient is suffering from a massive Ascariasis infestation, which is the most common roundworm infection.  People become infected when they consume food or drink that contains the Ascariasis eggs. That can happen when people eat food grown in soil that has been mixed with human feces. The larvae enter the lungs and then the throat, where they are coughed up and swallowed. Once they swallowed, larvae enter the intestines and become adults, where they can produce eggs for a year or more.  In heavy roundworm infections, like in Scene 10, abdominal cramps occur, and when a mass of worms blocks the intestines, it causes pain, vomiting and bloating of the blocked area.  As many as 1 billion people worldwide are infected with Ascariasis. 
This worm is the most like the “thousand worms” description that the Sudanese doctor gives.  Scroll if you are not squeamish…

I will follow up as soon as I have more information about what the examination and extraction process is like.

A pdf attachment follows and will be posted on our IN DARFUR blog where we’re keeping all our dramaturgical archives for the show. Go to…

I’ll post my piece below…
From the Artistic Director

The other night, a friend stopped me outside the J and said, “it’s really cool you guys are doing Africa, and I love the graphic, but what exactly are you doing In Darfur for? I mean, what’s Jewish about it?”

For many, Jewish engagement with the plight of Sudan comes as something of a surprise, even after a decade of multi-denominational activism. We learn from our friends at the Religious Action Committee that, back in 1979, the Union for Reform Judaism called for ratification of the International Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Twenty years later, there was its “Commitment to Africa” and in 2004, the Union passed the “Resolution on the Need for Action in Sudan.” 
Many of us remember April 30, 2006, when multiple branches within mainstream Judaism helped to organize “Save Darfur: Rally to Stop Genocide” on the Mall. Subsequent actions have continued: The “30 Days for Darfur” campaign; the “Blue Helmet” and “Online Postcard” campaigns; the “Voices to Stop Genocide” rally. Jewish textual underpinning for this activism stems from the biblical invocation, “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16), and the supposition that human life is sacred because all humanity is created “b’tselem Elohim;” in the image of God (Genesis 1:26).

Many organizations outside the synagogue movement, including two of our partners today—American Jewish World Service, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Committee on Conscience—have joined an ecumenical alliance, as have we on this project, with STAND, Enough, GI Network and Save Darfur, to discuss what is to be done in Darfur today.

But what is to be done? Really, the cynic might say, aren’t we a little bit done with Darfur? Wasn’t that George Clooney rally half a decade ago? The weary yawn, “Isn’t something else hot? Blood Diamonds? I think saw that movie. Human trafficking’s trendy. How bout a play about that?” Even more disparaging, Jews waving the Darfur banner might be a great way of hammering Arab Islamo-Fascism, ratcheting up points on The Conflict Tote Board. The sagging signs outside so many synagogues—of “Save Darfur” and “We Support Israel”—tell drive-by viewers that the Jewish community is properly standing behind the Jewish State while supporting human rights (reminding us that “human rights” need not be a code word). Clearly “Darfur Chic” has left the building. We have stopped ringing the alarm bells of Genocide, now that the damage has been done, the waves of killing seemingly diminished, and what we are left with is a memory of Genocide; and the politics of debating whether what we’ve witnessed was, in fact, a Genocide; and whether we’ve relativized the word so much that the Holocaust has lost its crucial distinctiveness. In short, we’ve found a new way to distance ourselves from the ravages of contemporary inhumanity. We’re rationalizing a way not to respond to the aftermath. Horror has happened on our watch, and what are we doing?

A play like this brings us back to a beginning when we were enjoined to wake up; to feel implicated; to remember atrocity and the complexity of responding to it; and the clear and present urgency that we must do so nonetheless. This production does something different than journalism; it builds a bridge from our remove to a place of connection by acknowledging the artifice that is theater; the reality that we are in Washington, being carried closer by American actors speaking Arabic, Zaghawa, or English with a Sudanese patois, leading us in a collective act of experience and empathy. The theater exhorts us, as in no other medium, to participate in a debate; to feel the presence of another human being made flesh and touchable.

Can theater make a difference in the world? One being at a time?