(Also check out initial student responses to their reading of the novella in this posting)
from Rachel Gubow, U of Michigan – January 23, 2011
After reading both the novella and the play, I had certain expectation of what the characters should act, look, and sound like. The images in my head were put to shame by reality on January 20th at Theatre J when I witnessed Return to Haifa live.
The acting was real and so truthful. You could feel the character’s bitterness, sadness, and anger in the air. Rozina Kambos, who portrayed Miriam, gave a particularly gripping and heart wrenching performance. Her acting choices were honest and I often found myself lost her in sincerity and struggle to share the truth with her son without losing him.
Throughout the play, like many others, I was conflicted. Confused about whose side I should take. I generally sided with Miriam for although she was not the biological mother, it was her love and devotion that created a family. Said and Safiyya, the biological parents, left their child. So how was I supposed to feel at the end? The talk back at the end of the show eased many of the feelings I had. In life, people are constantly trying to prove that they are “right”. However, situations are not always so black and white with what is right and wrong. Said, Safiyya, and Miriam are all attempting to claim ownership over Dov/Khladun, but also claim ownership over the future and of hope. They wanted to the right to return to Haifa and the right to return to their son. I realized that there is no “right” answer or way to feel when leaving the theatre. The great thing about the arts is that it gets people thinking and sparks a conversation to discuss these difficult ideas and issues.
Live theatre is, by far, my favorite way to experience this story. The set and lighting were designed well in a simplistic way as not steal attention from the characters. After all, it is more about the people than it is about the place.
The role of the female characters in the play was far different than the novella. They are strong, influential, and the driving force behind both the conflict and resolution. With the women’s story front and center, there was less of a political discourse and more of a dialogue about the people affected.
Playwright Boaz Gaon answered questions about the 7-year transition from novella to script. He was humbled by the experience and people’s reactions. The goal was to open their hearts and minds and lessen the assumption that the individuals on the other side of the argument are less human than the other.
Return to Haifa was a fantastic show. I am lucky to have had the opportunity to witness this great piece of theatre.
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from U of Michigan student, Andrew Beilein
What an inspiring and powerful performance! After reading the novella initially, I was inspired. After seeing a live interpretation and adaptation of Haifa, I was awakened to a sort of exasperation I could not even imagine. I thought that the Jewish adaptation did a substantial amount of justice to the original, but the differences were glaring—Miriam was quite hospitable as opposed to her portrayal in the novella.
Like Rachel, I was also conflicted about what side I was “rooting” for. I felt genuinely bad for the Arab couple, which I didn’t think was accidental. Goan did a terrific job of making Said and Safiyaa quite likeable, and I felt that I could understand the despair of their situation without experiencing anything like it. That being said, I thought that Said seemed aggressive and hawkish towards the end.
I also thought that the new feminine role. I think that the women in the play were much more empowered than in the novella, which is probably testament to contemporary times as well as a Jewish interpretation rather than an Arabic one.
I really enjoyed Goan’s explanation of the process of his adaptation. I think it lent a lot of background and made me appreciate the performance that much more. It is also important to realize the significance of having a play with both Arabic and Hebrew dialogue—this was truly a historic performance.
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Michigan student Kirsten Meeder writes:
The concept of ownership is a dominant motif in both Return to Haifa’s play adaptation as well as the the original novella. All of the characters constantly try to assert their own supreme ownership over either the land, their home, or the son who belongs paradoxically to both and neither of the two families.
After reading the novella, I was interested to see how the play would communicate this to the audience as it must demonstrate the shared ownership of the Palestinian and Israeli families in order to create conflict and tension within the house. I think that the play did this extremely well because it showcased the distinct narratives by demonstrating how they were complementary to each other, yet still historically and socially unique.
Coming away from the play, I felt that neither family owned Dov, the land, or the house. Instead, they both had claims that could never actually give either of them complete ownership of anything. The best instance of this was when Sa’id cut open Miriam’s pillowcase to expose his pillow underneath. This signified that his family’s presence was still very much within the house despite Miriam’s attempts to make it her own. This part was not only very dramatic, but also added a touch of violence to the otherwise restrained scene. For a moment, Sa’id reminds them all of the violent and not so distant past when their house and child were taken from them.
Overall, I appreciate the dual narratives of the play. There is never only one social narrative in a conflict although historically the victors of any given feud have attempted to drown out the narratives of losers. It is important not only to familiarize yourself with your own personal narrative, but to realize that individual narratives are only a part of a larger social fabric where every story is connected. As a result of this, supposed distinctions between friends and foes are often not as stark or developed as they appear.