Student Reaction to the Performance, After Reading the Novella (responses added)

(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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

17 thoughts on “Student Reaction to the Performance, After Reading the Novella (responses added)

  1. Sara Darga-1/23/11, Return to Haifa Response

    I found this production to be very moving and emotional. Considering the difficulties involved in adapting works of literature to play, I believe Boaz Gaon successfully produced an engaging and complex production of Ghassan Kanafani’s novella. Before viewing the play, in class we discussed that it would be difficult to convey the character’s complex inner emotions while still producing a lively and engaging play. However, after viewing the play, it was evident that this was not the case. Goan made the script emotional, moving, and at times funny. I did not feel lost or bored once in the ninety minutes we watched the play. The dialogue between the characters was fluid and filled with raw emotions like sadness, resentment, regret, and confliction. Though the play was not able to show the inner feelings of the individual characters like the novella, it still conveyed the essential and critical emotions they felt in this complicated narrative. I enjoyed hearing Goan’s response to Rachel’s question about how he decided where to depart from the novella, and where to follow it directly. I liked how he decided to end the play differently than the novella, in having Sa’id and Safiyya stay the night and stand over Dov sleeping along with Miriam and the memory of Froike. That ending in my opinion was much more uplifting and hopeful than the novella, especially when just before Sa’id and Dov heatedly discuss the fighting between the Palestinians and Israelis, and how his other son Khaled wants to join the fighting. Overall I enjoyed how the polemic subject matter of the play was framed and how the characters related and understood one another.

  2. I found that performance thursday evening very powerful in the sense that it enhanced the shaky images I had generated during the first reading of the novella. Because of the attention to detail of the performance, I trusted that the depiction of the novella was mostly accurate. Although what we saw was an adaption, I felt that the performance did retain the most important elements of the novella. Personally, in comparing the integrity of the two performances, I felt that theatrical version was actually truer to Kanafani’s “intended” effect. The novella allowed me to read at my own pace, gave me enough time to imagine scenes as I chose, and to filter the text through my the knowledge of the political dimensions of the text.

    My initial reading of the novella was tainted because it occurred through the lens of politics policy. In the sense that the Returning to Haifa focuses on the human end of the conflict, I found that the performance was useful in cuting-out my own biases, allowing me to read the play with a more open-mind, and experiencing the work more fully.

    Like Rachel I was impressed by Gaon’s strength in completing the adaption amidst a great deal of controversy. I was very impressed with the unbiased, humanistic moral of the story, and how Gaon refused to let Kanafani’s truth’s be obfuscated by his own. I am happy to have been introduced to theater with this courageous work.

  3. I’d thank all of the actors, directors, and producers whose efforts created a stirring, powerful piece of theater. The story came to life and, as intentioned, opened the hearts of the audience. I thought the show was incredible.

    Unlike many students however, I didn’t have any trouble picking sides. I sympathize entirely with Miriam and Dov. To me, biological ties don’t create the parent – child relationship. It is the experiences that they endure together. It is truly unfortunate that Said and Safiyya “lost” their son and were driven from their homes, believe me, I get that. But, that’s what happened. I understand their desire to return, to want to see their house and child, but I don’t believe they have any claim to Dov/Khaldun.

    It is the ease with which I sided with Miriam, that I believe truly irked the woman who felt that the Palestinian side was not represented well. I don’t think you can tell the story of the conflict without including both sides, but I think Boaz, as expected, made it easier to side with the Jewish family.

    The performances by the female characters were tremendous. The amount of passion they dedicated to their roles was impressive and made their roles come to life. I particularly enjoyed that the play was based more around the raw emotions of the mothers rather than the feelings of Said. I think that was a great decision by Boaz. That mother – son connection was a much more compelling, much more emotional story line. As was touched on in the discussion, they always argued they were “right.” Neither ever refuted the other, they just continued to make stronger claims. This was in stark contrast to the statements made by Dov/Khaldun, who never stated his feelings. He just cast doubt on every attempt by Said and Safiyya to reach him.

    The discussion following the play was incredibly enlightening and productive. Like most of the other students, I too, have very little background in the conflict, but this play has sparked a curiosity to learn more about it. To me, it doesn’t make sense that two people who understand the pain of persecution can continue to do it to each other… It seems crazy to me that they can’t put the history aside and attempt to move forward (clearly this strategy of hating each other hasn’t been productive). I know it would be extremely difficult, but it seems to be the only choice. Perhaps I will never understand.

  4. The performance last Thursday seemed to come across as very powerful and moving. The message of the play goes beyond the what actually happened on the set. It displays the conflict and turmoil between Palestine and the Jewish community. This conflict involves race and the fight for territory and has been playing over thousands of years. But enough about the politics behind the story, instead I would like to discuss the message that it tries to send.

    I found myself immersed in the interplay between the characters. The message I noticed distinct differences between the actual play and the novella. The play seemed much shorter and did leave some parts that were in the written novella. I

  5. Sorry I accidentally posted…this the continuation…

    Discussing more about the message I thought it tried to convey that the humans are equal in sense and race is something that is self created and only leads to conflict. Khuldon or Dov was raised by Jewish parents while being an Arab. Both families, who normally would not relate, are now related by a son they can both call their own.
    The play is different from the written story because I think it has to changed in translation to make it more entertaining and create drama to draw attention from audiences.
    For me, is there is no one side I can really take with who should have the rights to Dov. Both parties have an equal share and I think the best plan of action to work out a way in which Dov can be shared between both families. I think that would the fairest way to share Khuldoon.
    I was honored to view this amazing play.

  6. Boaz Gaon’s adaptation of Ghassan Kanafani’s “Returning to Haifa” certainly surpassed all of my expectations. I was left emotionally stirred with much to think about. I will foremost thank the cast and crew for providing me the experience of such wonderful theater.

    I would like to respond to Matt, because I too found myself “siding” with Miriam and Dov over the biological parents, Said and Safiyya. After all, they had experienced his life–knew the first girl he loved, what he liked to drink, his mannerisms and his nature. However, I must refute Matt’s sweeping statement of belief that the biological parents have no claim to Dov/Khaldun whatsoever. Said and Safiyya had been driven out of their home by violence. They left a son they loved. I was unable to see their flee as utter abandonment. Safiyya’s coldness evoked a kind of emptiness that really resonated with me and I sympathized with her character. She had lost a son, and I felt her sense of entitlement to him.

    What was most interesting to me was the reaction of a audience member who felt the Palestinian side was not adequately represented in the production. Though she did not intend her comments to be accusatory in any way, I still felt tensions rise in the theater as she spoke. As Rachel noted, “The great thing about the arts is that it gets people thinking and sparks a conversation to discuss these difficult ideas and issues.” The topic of this play was certainly difficult. The arts provide such a safe haven of expression, but the wounds of this conflict are raw.

    I found I had a completely different experience seeing the show as opposed to a reading. Seeing the material come to life was infinitely more engaging. The actors played their roles with such believability and ease. In sum, this theater experience was successful for me because it brought alive a controversial story in an incredibly engaging manner. This production opened my mind to both sides of this conflict and offered hope for the future at its end.

  7. As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I entered Theater J this past Thursday night with a feeling of internal conflict. After reading the novella I was excited to see the live theater production, but was also hesitant to think of what my reaction to the work would be. I can understand Said disenchantment with his song who for all purposes has not been a part of his life. The burden that he and his wife have been holding onto for decades has been the memory of a family member lost, quite similar to if their son had died in the conflict.

    Therefore I can acknowledge Said’s reasoning and have no problem noting that I don’t have nearly enough understanding of the Isreali/Palestinian conflict’s elaborate and complex history. However, having said all of that, the ending to both the novella and the play leaves me with a feeling of, “Well what can we do now?” I wasn’t expecting nor did I want an oversimplified having ending, but both works seem to leave viewers/readers with a lingering feeling of hopelessness.

    Unsurprisingly, I was left with this same sentiment after the performance on Thursday. The actors were able to bring the powerful words to life while eliciting and displaying raw emotions. Thankfully, the evening didn’t conclude with the end of the play. I believe the post show discussion was the production’s biggest asset. Individuals from very different sides were able to have an honest and civil discussion about conflicts that have torn families apart for hundreds of years. If it weren’t for Boaz’s efforts many of the plays viewers would not be able to hear how an initial Palestinian reaction may be that this play was taken from one of their own and adapted because it wasn’t good enough on it’s own. A powerful gut reaction that cuts to how initial interpretations can serve as a driving force in such a continuous conflict.

    The fact that these different viewpoints and emotions were expressed in a peaceful and accepting forum left me with a feeling of hope that all hope is not lost. As saddened as the play may have left me, the following discussion carried the day, and proved to be the most important part of the entire performance (for me at least).

  8. After reading both the novella and the play Return to Haifa, I, like many of my peers, was blown away by the amount of life the actors breathed into the piece. I was skeptical that I would be engaged with the characters while having to read the English surtitles, but it was not a problem. In fact, hearing the story told in their native tongues only added to the sincerity and effectiveness of the work.

    I found the panel discussion following the play even more compelling than the play itself in many ways. First, I was blown away by how open each of the panelists were about such a charged subject as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have watched many newscasts on the subject, and I feel as though every depiction is either extremely one-sided or very guarded. This panel, however, especially the Palestinian diplomat and lawyer, spoke honestly about their reactions and concerns with the play. I attribute the difference mainly to the artistic atmosphere. I think there is something inherently freeing about theater-it allows one to transcend reality and occupy the mind and heart of another, and it opens us up to collective emotions that supersede alliances and enemies.

    One of the panelists, when supporting another’s comment, stated that the subject is “particularly emotional because it is our history, our fathers and our homes too”. I Think that is the common theme of the play, that each family wants the other to understand that they too have been hurt by the conflict, and that they are the true victim, not the aggressor. As a result, the viewer is constantly picking sides, then abandoning the choice when the other couple makes a stronger point. Herein lays the problem-each family is truly the victim. If we are to progress from the conflict, I think that we need to start by recognizing that collective pain as a bond. If a relationship can be built out of the fact that both sides lost their son, their house, and a part of their heritage through the struggle, we can start from a common understanding. I think the two couples in Return to Haifa depict this move toward common understanding, and while extremely difficult, shed light on the fact that both are more similar than different.

  9. Theatre, as with all forms of artful expression, is presented to audience members who come to the show with their own understanding of the world, their own history and culture, and their own narrative that guides how they interpret and appreciate art. Unlike many of the audience members last Thursday night, I did not come to the show with a deep-rooted emotional investment in the history and ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. I am a western European mutt whose heritage has completely assimilated into the American melting pot to the extent that I feel more attached to Wisconsin culture more than any of my ancestry. I therefore was touched by the story of Return to Haifa very differently since I felt far less passionate about how each of the narratives was portrayed than many of the other individuals who spoke during the post show panel. I could recognize the myriad of themes co-existing in the undercurrent of the show, but the theme that struck the strongest chord within me was the human reality that transcends the Palestinian/Israeli context of this specific show. That reality was what we do when we are faced with the realization of the humanity of “the other.”
    Untenably, the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis is one of the most violent, complex divisions of two ethnicities and cultures from the last century. Again, coming from a place of naïveté about many of the nuances of each argument and details of each side’s narrative, Return to Haifa painted a portrait of two families who were just as similar as they were different. Each had been unwillingly displaced from their home, each had felt the grief of losing a child, each felt as though their argument was right and deserved vindication for their plight. The beauty of this play for me was the unfolding of each character realizing the humanity behind their adversary. It’s easy for humans to hate when we don’t understand. Stereotyping and prejudice comes easily to us because it allows us to simplify other people to the extent that we can feel as though we understand the other without really knowing them at all. But its stories like Return to Haifa that are so beautifully and carefully crafted to portray the human reaction when names and stories and emotions get put to a person who you are so quick to hate. Because despite our differences, and especially the ingrained differences between Sa’id and Safiyya versus Miriam, anger is anger, sadness is sadness, heartache is heartache. These emotions transcend culture and differences and evoke empathy even upon the most stubborn among us. As an audience member who didn’t understand a single word in the entire show, I could recognize and empathize with those emotions throughout the show. Unlike the novella, I really felt the choice of the playwright to allow these characters to recognize themselves in one another and allow that recognition to begin to bridge the gap between them was powerful. The moment in the show that I felt represented the walls truly beginning to break down because of this recognition was when Miriam and Safiyya were alone talking after Artzi left and Safiyya explained how through the commotion and confusion Khaldun was left behind. Her monologue is one of the most griping I have heard and was performed beautifully. But what is genius about that moment is that Safiyya’s honest description of her pain from losing Khaldun invokes Miriam to suggest ideas as to how they could share Khaldun/Dov. While the moment gets disrupted by Safiyya’s impulsive statement about her grandchildren returning to this house, for that moment the two mothers identify with one another as mothers, and recognize each other’s pain of losing a child.
    I realize that Return to Haifa is about much more than this simple theme, but I hope that it doesn’t get lost in the politics of the show because I do believe it’s one of the tools that can be used toward ending conflict. Not just this specific conflict, but any conflict that occurs between people who are so divided and removed from “the other” that they can’t even recognize what ultimately brings us together.

  10. I found the role-reversals in play between the novella and the performance to be very intriguing. In Kanafani’s work, Said is clearly the main protagonist, whose emotions are the driving force of the play. Saffiyeh and Miriam play small roles in the novella, especially when compared to the emotional range that Said brings to the piece.

    The work is turned completely on its head in the adaption however, and the role reversals are intriguing to watch. Seeing Said’s anger and confusion take a backseat to the trials of motherhood gives the performance an entirely different feel. As Saffiyeh and Miriam square off in an emotional battle over the fate of Khaldun/Dov, Said mostly fades into the background, and the audience is not given insight into the raw emotion carried by Said that Kanafani was able to show so beautifully.

    While Boaz Gaon made changes that affected the character dynamic of the story, he was able to craft their emotional confrontation in much the same way as Kanafani did in the novella. While the characters themselves are integral pieces of the story, Kanafani’s legacy is more focused on the emotional connection that people make to Return to Haifa, and in this respect, Gaon has done his part in keeping with Kanafani’s proud legacy. Gaon may have substantially changed the characters, but the outcome of both the work itself, as well as the emotional outcome for the audience, remains the same.

  11. I thought that the play Return to Haifa was beautiful. It was written and preformed with so much heart that I sound myself connecting with characters that I had not when I read the novella. I felt that the interpretation that Boaz took on the novella was brilliant and brought this novella to an audience who may not have felt that the novella was as fair to the opinions of the Israeli side of this controversy.
    I also thought it was interesting how prominent the roles of Miriam and Saffiya were in the play then in the novella. These roles seemed minor in the novella compared to that of Said but in the play, these two women are central to the story and to the conflict. I thought that much of the heart of the play centered on both women believing that they were Dov/Khaldun’s true mother. It really brought to light the controversy of nature versus nurture and which of these qualities makes the women in this play Dov’s real mother.
    I do believe that the play stayed true to the story and lessons behind Kanafani’s novella. I think that Boaz really understood Kanafani’s message and adapted to novella to reach a wider audience of people. I enjoyed the play because there was much more depth and development of these characters, which helped me to relate to them more, especially Miriam and Ephraim. The lives and circumstances of the Jewish family are seen much more in the play, which makes the story more complete and more balanced. All in all, I think this play was a huge success for the company and Theater J and I am so happy that I got to witness it.

  12. Props are a highly visual element in “Return to Haifa” that allow the director to effectively convey his message. While descriptions of objects in the novella leave readers’ interpretation up to their imagination, props in a play provide a means for the director to impose his interpretation on the audience in some degree and create meaning out of it. The use of props in “Return to Haifa” conveys two concepts: Miriam and Iphrat’s investment in Dov and Said and Safiyya’s loss of ownership after the events of 1948.

    Dov’s baby stroller demonstrates these ideas most effectively. The audience first sees the stroller sitting outside of Miriam’s house in 1967. Its highly worn appearance and missing wheel serve as evidence that the Koshens used the stroller often throughout Dov’s childhood. The stroller’s new function of holding flowers shows that Miriam kept it perhaps out of nostalgia. Although the Koshens were not the original owners of the stroller, their memories cause them to value it.

    During a 1948 scene, the audience sees Said and Safiyya after they purchased the stroller. It is brand new, and they are hopeful that they will have many opportunities to use it while raising their son. Unfortunately, after leaving the stroller behind in Haifa, Said and Safiyya are no longer the owners. When they return to Haifa in 1967, they wonder if it is rightfully theirs and whether they can take it back after all of these years.

    While the stroller is simply an object that was a part of Dov’s upbringing, it is the message conveyed through this object that is more important. Much like the stroller, Dov himself becomes almost unrecognizable to Said and Safiyya over time because they were not able to witness his development. The stroller is one example of an object that escaped Said and Safiyya’s possession to later help build the Koshens’ lives. Through the use of different props, such as pillows and peacock feathers, the director reinforces the message about the effect of political conflict on the individual and the family.

  13. I felt that it was a bitter-sweet performance. I found myself a bit irritated at Saiid and Safiyya in terms of their approach to claim their son. They came off demanding and unsympathetic to Miriam. The performance made me respect the relationship and bond that took place with Miriam and Dov more. I saw Saiid and Safiyya as the antagonist of the play while with the Novella I felt sentiment for both sides and saw the two sets of parental figures as equal. The actor of Saiid became too passionate in that he portrayed Saiid as a very irrational being. The entire time I was rooting for Miriam and Dov. What surprised me the most was the unexpected and somewhat civil ending despite the fact that Dov bared all of the suffering.

    It was a pleasure to have seen the novella come to life, as a visual learner this allowed me to think more and see the conflict in a better perspective. It was a memorable performance. The female actress performed powerfully, they expressed the emotions with strength and vulnerability. I was truly touched by this story and especially since I did not have any prior knowledge about the Palestinian or Israeli conflict I understood the concepts better and I felt more connected after the performance.

  14. Seeing the novella come to life on stage as “Return to Haifa” at Theater J was moving. However, I found the discussion panel after the show to be both the most interesting and most informative part of the experience. The diverse opinions, viewpoints, and backgrounds opened up a unique dialogue that lent incredible insight to both the play, and the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

    Of particular interest to me was a comment made by Dr. Yuval Benziman, who was a visiting professor from Israel at the Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland. During the post-show discussion, Dr. Benziman stated that he finds through his study of Israeli culture that studying products of a culture are often better starting points or sources of understanding situations, even political ones. This is opposed to studying political discourse. Many of these cultural products are more honest than political discourse which may have an agenda, or are trying to appear neutral for the sake of public approval. Cultural products, such as theatrical pieces, open up the arena for dialogue about the issues, both within the pieces, and afterwards, as was seen with the post-show discussion of “Return to Haifa.” “Return to Haifa” itself was itself offered honest dialogue between Said, Safiyya, and Miriam. The piece centered on the frank, and often witty, words between the two sides. However, the play managed to remain humane, demonstrating a situation I perceived to be realistic.

  15. I truly enjoyed watching the stage production. Though the stage was small in literal size, the performance permeated the auditorium both physically and emotionally. Having the characters entering and exiting through the audience was genius in that it aided in translating the physical and emotional journey. This subtle act also made me feel more engaged as a participant in the piece beyond the role of audience member.

    I must admit that at first I was skeptical about watching a whole play in two entirely foreign languages to me even though I understood the importance of telling one’s story in his or her own language. However, I am glad that the play was not in my native tongue, English. Other than the heavily layered story reading as more genuine, English is a rather stiff language that lacks the dynamic of Arabic and Hebrew. The lines were delivered with a range of vocal dynamic and precision that one would expect at a concert of their favorite music artist.

    I could go on and on about the small details of the play, which in part demonstrate the successful adaption of a detail driven elegant novella. Instead I would like to get into the conflict that arose for me in encountering the work. Unlike many, I did not try to pick sides while I watched the play–that was a battle that I waged while closely reading the play prior to viewing the production. So I was awkwardly comfortable the notion of duality. I understood (to a certain extent) where both sides were coming from. Every time I formulated an argument that enabled me to lean in one direction while reading the play, I could formulate an argument for the opposition. It was an unending circle that I personally decided to let exist, which may in part be what the play was communicating. This simplification does not mean that I did not feel the mothers’ pain, that I did not fall in love with Ephraim, that I did not enjoy Said’s contradicting name meaning and presented temperament, that I did not understand yet find Dov/Khaldun’s initial bravado annoying/uncomfortable or that I did not participate in the roller-coaster ride of thought and emotion. This simplification enabled me to feel a conflict that I am not the most comfortable sharing, but will out of respect for the play’s honesty with me.

    As I sat in the dark, glaring at an illuminated stage that communicated both invitation yet weariness, I felt an indiscernible discomfort. It was as if I was experiencing the play, while simultaneously engaging in a personal dialogue separate from conflict presented on stage. It was as if personal demons were arising that I still cannot seem to shake to crank out a blog absent of them. I did not realize what I was feeling until the Question and Answer session after Thursday night’s show.

    A Palestinian woman spoke to how she initially felt that her narrative, when told, had always be juxtaposed to the shadow of the Jewish one. Although I do not necessarily feel that the play leaned in one direction more than the other, the topic raised the issue of what audiences will listen too. If this was not an adaption of novella but a Palestinian play that was beautiful written and heart felt that did not juxtapose Jewish suffering, who would listen? I am not saying that I do not believe, that the Palestinian narrative is not worth listening too. I am asking why we are okay with knowing that a story of that nature cannot stand on its own and still receive massive exposure.

    I could empathize with her position. I know that I am more than my social identities, but that does not mean that I do not consider them in my daily actions. I feel that there has been a vast amount left unsaid in the black community both internally and externally. When narratives are produced many times they are simplified or dismissed. If I vocalize anger about not having the privilege of knowing my ancestry in its completeness, or that there are apparent institutional injustices, I risk being classifies as just another angry black woman looking for a hand out. So what happens? I repress, and so does my community. Repression seems to be both a necessity and coercion. I need to repress in order to advance in society and not become too angered that I become stagnant. I am forced repress in an effort to not make others uncomfortable, to not make myself uncomfortable. Yet, no wound left unattended or noticed can heal.

    I learned this from Return to Haifa. Upon expressing many things, its journey to the stage is about the importance of sharing one’s narrative. There were many forces against this highly political play, yet the narrative persevered. Sharing one’s story and ensuring that the message gets out there no matter how hard the battle is powerful. I hope to take this lesson into a community I claim affinity, but most importantly claim this as a personal lesson useful for every aspect of my life.

  16. After seeing Gaon’s Return to Haifa, I found the story to be best represented in the theatrical setting. I am particularly awestruck at the capabilities of a cast displaced in a foreign country yet still able to convey the universal human truths of an otherwise culturally specific struggle. While I thought the performances were beautiful, I was most moved, like many, by Rozina Kambos’ Miriam, who managed to convey a woman whose bitterness increases in proportion to her love. Furthermore, I thought of all the characters, Gaon rendered Miriam most completely, illustrating the varying shades of motherhood and its toll on an already damaged soul.

    Gaon’s adaptation does particularly well as emphasizing the symbolism that recurs within the story. In the play adaptation, love and grief grow parallel to each other: After Ephraim passes away, Miriam internalizes her grief in such a way that her only escape is through her love for Dov. Likewise, once Said and Saffiya return, they have made peace with their volatile past and are on a quest for redemption, rooted in the love for their son. I thought this juxtaposition was a beautiful way of avoiding any “othering” that could have occurred. Another symbol I noticed was the house and, in particular, notions of property and of ownership. Said and Saffiya circle the house for the majority of the play, despite the fact that it had previously belonged to them. Likewise, Said’s penchant for brewing coffee is exercised freely and joyously outside the house but, once inside, Miriam states that she detests coffee due to the affect it had on her husband. At first glance, this difference appears minute, but it also encapsulates a vital perspective of the Israeli-Palestinian debate: identity in ownership.

    As for the post-show discussion, I think it was particularly important to have knowledgeable experts at hand. That being said, I feel discussion veered too often into personal anecdote and, while this certainly contributes important perspective to the story, I found myself wanting to hear about the artistic process Gaon underwent. It is this process that interested me most because I thought Gaon’s highly personalized, introspective view of a well-worn conflict was groundbreaking in its own right, and I suppose I would have gained more insight into hearing his own journey from participant to interpreter. Nevertheless, Return was passionately acted, beautifully directed and, judging by the previous posts, undoubtedly moving.

  17. Reading some of the other posts by my peers on their thoughts and feelings I would definitely have to say that seeing the performance live truly brings out elements of the story I did not notice or maybe couldn’t notice (and I read it twice!). The original novella was great, but Boaz Gaon’s adaptation was definitely tremendous. I believe the way he portrayed the story was true to its “roots” and main purpose while adding some of Gaon’s own artistic aspects to it.

    I think the panel discussion afterwards also really heightened my understanding and helped focus my feelings. Many students wrote about what side they feel was “right” or who they sympathized with more. Boaz mentioned at every speaking event about his Return to Haifa someone always asks who is right or who is more right. Gaon clearly stated that his adaptation is meant to open up hearts first and the point he tries to make is not political, which all should appreciate.

    I would agree with Rachel and others that the female characters are portrayed in a much different, more authoritative light in the play compared to the novella, which was encouraging and pleasant to see. I felt that the light shed on the human, but more importantly the feelings of the mothers, allowed for the audience to feel for both sides. When watching the performance, I forgot about Israelis vs. Palestinians or Jews vs. Arabs. I was so taken in I even forgot the show was in languages I could not speak. The movements and emotions expressed told the story. Yes, I knew the story and the general ideas beforehand, but the actors fit perfectly into each of their roles.

    Finally, I would just like to briefly mention something that I really felt was important, at least to me, and I would encourage any feedback. I really enjoyed the way Boaz wrote in some of the comedy throughout the play. The actors delivered the lines brilliantly. Raida, Suheil, Nisim, Erez, Rozina and Michael T. all had comedic moments at some point. It amazed me how comedy was infused into a story about something so serious to so many people. I think the audience reacted well due to the combination of deliver and placement. This aspect, along with the roles of the female characters, surely contributed to the brilliance of the performance at Theater J.

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