…from Aaron Davidman’s beautiful tour de force performance piece—its latest iteration, some three and a half years after its debut at Theater J. Read about the first version here. And now an excerpt from the current prologue, story #3 of the opening:
Projection: “City Of Tolerance”
(Large crowd. Protest banners. Sounds of protest rally.)
I’m at the steps of Sproul Hall, UC Berkeley Campus, front-line of the Free Speech Movement. Where Mario Savio once stood before thousands and proclaimed:
MARIO: There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop.
UC Berkeley Campus. I’m at the steps of Sproul Hall. Where Joan Baez once sang songs of freedom. Where teach-ins and protests against the Vietnam War inspired a generation to action.
(sings) We shall overcome. We shall overcome…
I’m at the steps of Sproul Hall. Where, in 1985, we cut classes from Berkeley High School to stand with the community in protest of the racist Apartheid government of South Africa.
PROTESTER: What do we want? Divestment! When do we want it? Now!
UC Berkeley. I’m at the steps of Sproul Hall. A few days after two planes crashed into the Twin Towers and cracked America. Disbelief. Ashes and grief blanket New York City. America mourns. Bad luck for citizens named Muhammed. Ibrahim. Ahmed. Saheed. America wants revenge. Arab-Americans are fearful. I’m at the steps of Sproul Hall at an anti-racism rally. Solidarity march. Stand together with Arab brothers and sisters. Say NO to racism. Seek justice, not revenge. Berkeley, city of tolerance. City of diversity. The People, United, Will Never Be Defeated. Flags. Banners. Arab Student Union up front. Bull horn blazing. We Are Not Terrorists. We Are Arab-Americans. Thousands moving across the plaza. Young women. Young men. We Are Not Terrorists. We Are American Citizens. We will not allow the tragedy of these attacks to justify hatred of Arabs. The heat of bodies press together. Sun bright over head. You cannot lock us up because of the color of our skin. Blue sky above, reaching out forever. You cannot lock us up because of our religious beliefs. Mouth dry. Elbow to elbow. Crowd thickens. We Will Not Succumb To The Global Hegemony Of The United States Government and its tool, Israel. Roar of voices. Roar. Behind me, first, it comes. Free Free Palestine. Flags. Fists. Free Free Palestine. Banners. Bodies press. Free Free Palestine. A surge of words. A crackle of fire. It spreads. End The Occupation. Fists squeeze tight. End The Occupation. Fists fill the air. Death To Israel. What? What? Death To Israel. A blur of faces. A fog of sound. Death To The Jews! Death To The Jews! Death To The Jews!
So. Do you see? Three stories.
As my rabbi would say, “It’s a problem.”
* * *
And these responses from attendees tonight.
First from Chanel Adikuono…
Wrestling Jerusalem was the first reading I have ever attended. Aaron Davidman’s performance had similar elements to Ana DeaVere Smith’s one man performance of playing multiple characters. Davidman performed with passion, and did a great job in making distinctions between the different personalities that was portrayed within Writing to Jerusalem through the change in his facial expressions, changes in accents and fluctuations in tone.
Unlike a play that consists of multiple actors and actresses with many props and technical changes, a reading gave the audiences the opportunity to paint the images in their own mind. The music provided an important detail to the flow of the play as it was used as a cue to change between the scenes or what they call it the three stories.
Since there was emphasis on three stories, I was expecting, simply three stories. As it turns out it was three stories plus several more. I will talk more of the three stories which stayed more freshly in my mind.
The first story of Upstate New York focused on this idea of the social conscience and an individual’s ability to empathize with strangers and more significantly to care for strangers is what it means to be Jewish. This idea of caring for strangers was repeated later on in “The Dead Sea” and the 3 commandments was mentioned. I thought it was powerful that we were reminded that “we shall love the stranger”. In my own interpretation I thought this was a reflection of this idea of welcoming someone back, whether they be strangers or someone near to our own hearts. It ties into the concept of the Right to Return. There should be a social understanding that who or what we might consider to be strangers, might actually in fact be one of our own.
The second story of a young man who was kicked out of the program, because he was “intense” for meditating on the roof top symbolizes this idea of escaping from the institution. It shows that he learned best by joining in the community rather than following a structured system. In the end, he learned just as much if not more by being immersed in the environment.
The third story of Berkeley as the “City of Tolerance” was a personal favorite, not at all because I am a UC Berkeley student myself. In this one, it also brought in this theme of strangers unified to fight for a specific cause. It walked us through the activism and protests of the biggest events and politically controversial moments in our history on UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza. Davidman, a single man, brought in the power of the masses onto a small stage. The way he projected his voice to show the power that took place on Sproul Plaza during these protests gave me chills. This sent a message to the audience that there are a community of people who will break the social norms and misinformation that are being portrayed in the media of particular assumptions, like one of Arabs after the tragedy of 9/11. It showed that there are groups of people such as those in Berkeley that will challenge, fight for the truth and seek justice.
Overall, it was impressive to see a reading where one man represented multiple characters and evoked plethora of emotions. I cannot cover half of the experience merely on this blog entry.
* * *
And from Michael Maiorano…
Tonight’s solo performance of Wrestling Jerusalem was very entertaining from an artistic perspective. Though it couldn’t touch Anna Deveare Smith (not that it aimed to), in terms of performance, Davidman confronted a similar challenge of conveying multiple characters through just one body. I found the reading tremendously successfully, in that confronted a similar challenge of conveying multiple characters through just one body.
When I skimmed the script before the play, what first caught my eye was a familiar quote; “don’t start no shit it wont be no shit”, by YoungBloodz. I was inclined to view the author’s placement of that line as cantankerous, a clever way of espousing a pro-israeli point of view. As the rest of the performance would prove, perhaps the opposite was true?
Deeper into the play… At about the fifth scene, I conceded that I wasn’t just imagining things; “Bushra: There is a man I always see at the belt Jala check-point. He’s an old man. Every day he rides the bus, and everyday the soldiers make him get off the bus and he refuses”, continuing, “someone should make a movie about this man”(pg. 21). When did Davidman start working on this? The Rosa Park’s stories premiered in 2002. Huh?
To me, the reading’s central meaning came full circle when one the character’s chose to discuss reflexivity, a concept I sort of understood, but by a different name, and another sort of related concept…Most common in psychology, but widely studied and applied in the social sciences, the fundamental involves an often consequential result of our human cognition, and in this case related to our need to reduce, categorize, label… The numerous characters and conversations in the play repeatedly illustrated a single point made explicit by one conversation; “there is power in names”. I will go ahead and claim that this power tends to have a destructive valence when it is translated into action.
Though he wrote and acted from a Jewish point of view, his work was not, in my view, pro-Israeli. Rather, in terms of content, the recognition of the human obstacles to progress were reflective of a very progressive viewpoint, one that voiced a willingness to take the difficult first step of undressing his own tendencies and perceptions.