More Reactions to “A Railway To Damascus” – Read on January 25

from UM student Kristen Brey

I came away from the reading of “A Railway to Damascus” very impressed with the quality of acting and story telling with only five hours of rehearsal. I could not keep my eyes off of the actress reading Sarah, and despite her modern clothes and the script in her hand, she took me on Sarah’s journey. Her performance, along with the other actors, kept my attention throughout the show and further sparked my interest in educating myself on the history of the Israel/Palestine conflict.

During the talk back, I shared my appreciation of learning a part of history I knew little about through these politically fused plays. I tried to best articulate that this issue and these cultures were something I had only ever learned about through the news, and to be exposed to them through the venue of theatre, was, to me, one of the beauties of theatre. I fear that I was not as eloquent as I hoped to be, because the director, Peter Sinai, assertively pushed back against my comment, asking if I did not feel like this piece was a looking glass into human emotion and a human reaction to a set of circumstances. Of course, I did feel that way. As I have already stated, the power of the lead actress left me with no other choice than to feel as though I was experiencing her story with her. Yet, the tone in his voice when he shot that question back at me, made me feel as though I either didn’t correctly articulate what I was trying to say, or that Mr. Sinai did not think that this play could be both an expression of human experiences AND a glimpse into a part of history the audience may or may not be familiar with.
For me, the best period pieces, whether on stage or screen, are those that maintain fidelity to the politics and fashion of the period while charging the story with thoughtful writing and superb performances, providing the audience with the authenticity of human emotion and of the reality of what it was to live through that period. For me, despite the fact that this was only a reading and not a full production, I felt that A Railway to Damascus fulfilled both of those requisites.

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from subscriber Michelle Sender


On Monday night at the talk back after “A Railway to Damascus” with Sinai Peter, I mentioned that the decision that Sarah makes perhaps is a question of “thick” relations, i.e. our family/relatives, group/tribe vs. the outside, ‘the other’ even though in this case Sarah is definitely pulled by ‘the other’/thin relations. In the play the author makes the conflict real and difficult—and I felt Sarah should have followed her gut feeling to protect her Arab employer/protector and to me was confirmed as the play unfolds and shows that you never know how your actions will play out which in this case was deadly on two counts.

The concepts of ‘thick’ and ‘thin’ relations as determinants of an individual’s response to situations is articulated in Avishai Margalit’s
book THE ETHICS OF MEMORY, c2002 by Harvard University Press. I’m in a study group with Rabbi Danny Zemel at Temple Micah which is reading this book.

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from Emily Gold

In the beginning of the play Sarah, the main character says a line that I feel sums up the whole meaning of A Railway to Demascus. While talking about Arabs and Jews she says, “unless we learn to live with one another, we’ll have to kill each other”. This quote reflects my feelings about the play, and about the Arab/Israeli conflict in the Middle East. Because these two peoples see each other as enemies with no common goals, a young woman in the play, Nini, and many innocent people in real life have been killed.

This play was very touching. I felt myself moved by the decisions that Sarah had to deal with during her life, as a Jew working for an Arab whom had befriended her. The conflict between this loyalty for a friend of a different “group” and her family loyalty to her brother really drove the plot and led to the very interesting ending. This play, to me, ended with no conclusion. There was no happy ending, no resolution to the issues at stake, just a woman trying to survive in a place of turmoil.

I feel that this play showed a different side of the conflict that most are not exposed to. I had never really learned about what it was like in Israel before the British left and it was given to the Jews as the State of Israel. This play brought a different side of the issue to the table, one that I really appreciated being introduced to.


6 thoughts on “More Reactions to “A Railway To Damascus” – Read on January 25

  1. Dear Kresten!
    Thank you so much for your very bright comments.
    I do appologize if my response to you in that evening seemed to be too assertive.I didn`t mean to be so.And of course you`re right in your conclusion about the needed affiliation between the personal and the political narratives in a goopolitical play like “Demascus”.
    Sinai peter

  2. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the physical reading of A Railway to Damascus. However, after reading the manuscript of Mitelpunkt’s play I have a response that I believe will contribute to the conversation.

    I spent the past few weeks doing a lot of work with the play Return to Haifa. I attended a cue-to-cue rehearsal, saw the actual performance, and read the novella that inspired the adaptation performed in DC. Therefore, as I sat down to read A Railway to Damascus that storyline and work was still weighing heavily on my mind. This is a possible explanation for why one of the immediate parts of the play I was drawn to was Sarah’s inability to forgive her brother for his role in the loss of Nini. It is poignantly reminiscent of Said’s inability to cope with the fact that the Israeli solider standing in front of him is actually his son.

    I believe this theme has a prominent theme in these two works because it seems to serve as a microcosm of the root of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The inability to forgive an opposing enemy will result in an ongoing battle that can never be truly resolved. I am nowhere naïve enough to claim that if each side could just forgive each other the Middle East would turn into some sort of utopia. The complexity and layers of the conflict make sure a quick fix impossible. But, it does cause one to wonder.

    Many of those passionately involved with the conflict probably share Sarah’s dream, that one-day we will be able to travel to a land where we can all live in peace. As Sarah so poignantly noted in the early stages of the play, “Unless we learn to live with one another, we’ll have to kill each other”. Like Return to Haifa this play calls for both intellectual and emotional response and action from the audience. It seems to ask, how long are we going to allow ourselves to fall into the roles of ancient history, no matter how vehemently we deny it could ever happen to us.

    The audience is encouraged not to find themselves, as Sarah did, realizing we are everything we spoke against. The words encouraging peace are a good first step but are not a truly progressive step forward. As Shlomi noted, “real life is more complicated than slogans”, therefore we must work towards resolution not just with words but with tangible action.

  3. Of all the dysfunctional relationships in A Railway to Damascus, I was most intrigued, or rather aggravated, by the relationship between Shlomi and Nini. It is most likely that this frustration was the result of the fact that I am a Women’s Studies major. Amongst the slew of classes that my major requires, I have taken a class on women, war, and the Middle East. I therefore cast a critical eye on the dynamics of Nini’s and Shlomi’s relationship while I was reading the play. Their relationship and the importance of Nini choosing a foreigner over a native man have broad and complex consequences.

    Historically whenever a region is invaded or conquered by an outside group sexual relations within said country become intensely strained. Conquerors will often first show their domination and control through the infiltration of the country’s women. This most often results in mass rapes, but can also occur through consensual relations between women and visiting soldiers. Control of a nation’s women is the ultimate insult and emasculation of native men. This also relates to the native males loss of control of their physical territory as the homeland is most often personified as and referred to as female. Moreover, any children resulting from the rapes/consensual relations between women and foreigners “contaminate” future generations and works to further extend the network of foreign control.

    After taking into account the above information, I was able to deduce the doomed nature of Nini’s and Shlomi’s relationship and thought that it provided an interesting dynamic to the overall play. After foreign men threaten Shlomi’s pride and masculinity, he resorts to deplorable resources to control Nini and regain his own social autonomy. However, by reasserting his assumed power of Nini, he loses her forever by inadvertently causing her own death.

  4. I, like Dan Ingram, was also unable to attend the actual reading but still wanted to share my thoughts after reading the manuscript. After reading some of the responses I wanted to touch on a point Emily made. She stated the play brought up a different side of the Arab/Israeli conflict. However, I wanted to look at this point from a different angle than what Israel was like before the British left, as she mentioned.

    I was not too familiar with the different groups (i.e. the Haganah and the Lehi). I did some “investigative research” and read up on both groups because I was curious and interested in why different groups of Jews would join in opposition against each other. The play clearly focuses on Sarah’s tough choice she has to make, especially after she learns of her brother joining Lehi. The Lehi and Haganah both were Jewish paramilitary groups, but they served different ideals on certain issues and how to run operations. I would appreciate any other info on the groups and if they tore families and friends apart during the WWII timer period.

    The other aspect of the play I wanted to discuss was Sarah’s ultimate decision. In this case, flesh and blood was more powerful than feelings and actual treatment. I ended up asking myself who do I really consider family? Is family flesh and blood or the people that care about me and are by my side during tough times? Sarah’s choice was difficult because it was her brother. However, perhaps a more distant relative (aunt, cousin, uncle) would cause a different chain of events. I have to say that the works at Theater J that I have seen or read this semester have left me filled with torn emotions and have made me truly evaluate aspects of my own life, while looking back at stories from the past.

  5. I went to the reading without any expectations of what is about to happen and left with complete fascination. The reading was not decorated with props and stage drop. Everything happens in a simple set up with only a sofa in the center of the stage. What make the reading so powerful are the performers and the story. My attention has been completely attracted to the storyline as the conflicts slowly builds up to its climax. Sarah’s journey was not a pleasant one, definitely one that no one would like to relive.
    Although the play is full of heats between the two nations it draws out an important point on reality. It takes so much effort for one to realize the cruelty and dislocation of war and post-war period. The relationship between the two lovers from both sides added an extra aesthetic touch to the reading making the story more intriguing to watch. The ending of the play was totally unexpected especially from a drama, but I guess this is the part where the author tries to distinguish his play from drama. The ending reinforces the idea of reality rather than fantasy. The point has been strengthened further more when the mother forbid herself to reveal the truth about the little girl’s identity; proven the cynical part of human nature.
    The post discussion after the play was very educational. I learned from the cast and the director about the purpose of the play and more about the history behind the conflict.

  6. I was pleased that I finally got around to reading A Railway to Damascus, because that means I’ve almost read all the way through the Middle East festival. Like many of the other works, this one deals with past traumas and inter-family conflicts that threaten to tear apart the lives of the characters. As World War II rages around them, Jews and Arabs in the British controlled area called Palestine struggle to maintain any sense of balance as their worlds are spinning out of control.

    We catch the first rumblings of the coming conflict when Arabs throughout Haifa talk about fleeing the city and the coming onslaught of Rommel’s tanks, while leaving the Jews to fend off the Germans on their own. This divide is compounded by the tensions on each side regarding the British army that is stationed in the province as a last-ditch force to fight off the Germans. As the characters try to navigate the twisting and turning road between fears of the war, as well as the Arab-Israeli tensions in the region, they struggle to maintain their relationships and principles as the world comes crashing down around them. As extremism shifts the paradigm for the characters and distorts connections between characters, the audience just has to hold on and wait for the ride to come to an end.

    The play shows us that even under extremely trying circumstances, you can survive even after compromising your morals and ethics, but the cost may be extreme. A Railway to Damascus seems to be a cautionary tale of war between countries, ideologies, and one’s self. The end of the play speaks to the solemn truth that even as the chaotic world changes around you, a change in your own convictions can result in a dramatic shift from where your life is initially headed.

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