Via Dolorosa Reflections

from Daniel Ingram

It is impossible to begin responding to the production of Via Dolorosa without first commenting on the words of Sir David Hare and the performance of David Bryan Jackson.

Jackson’s performance left me very impressed. As the lights finally went dark and the music began to play I felt very similar to the closing moments of Let me Down Easy. Both David Bryan Jackson and Anna Deavere Smith have a way of becoming the individuals they are portraying. As an audience member I am no longer viewing them as the actor, but rather the former governor of Texas or a British writer diving headfirst into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Lesser performers who could not so readily thrust themselves fully into the roles could have wasted the profound words of the productions.

Hare’s words take viewers on a personal journey throughout Israel. His descriptions transport you from a dark theater to a different country. I believe that is why this story remains so relevant over 10 years later. Many key characters have changed, and the conflict has evolved (albeit much less than many people would have hoped), but Hare’s narration keeps the story relevant and thought provoking. His most powerful words are about the overall nature of the conflict, not about who exactly said or did what. Phrases like, “I realize, Jews don’t belong here”, “what in the world would you die for now?”
and “there is no peace process” invoke emotional responses.

Therefore, it’s perfect to have a peace café in order to discuss these visceral reactions. In a forum that excludes finger pointing and yelling, complex topics can be discussed. It’s events like this that I always turn to when people questions the overarching values of art. This 90 minute production not only exposes audiences to a seemingly timeless story, but allows for a fruitful discussion of a heatedly debate topic.

Last night it was mentioned that this is one way individuals actually benefit from the conflict. My first reaction to such a statement was to recoil and think, “yes, but it would be so much better if the conflict never existed”. This utopian proposition still seems rather appealing to me, but after much thought, I believe I better understand the claim that was made. If this conflict never existed, the differences and issues may never be discussed. Therefore, it seems a conflict was inevitable due to this underlying tension and differences.

Hare’s play implores, “What’s the way forward? Is there hope”. Peaceful discussions where the issues are addressed rather than ignored or merely fought over seem to be the only way forward. I’m not naïve enough to say everyone just needs to sit down in a room and have a simple chat; but it doesn’t sound like a bad place to begin.

My one and only critique of my night out at Theater J was the length of the performance. I believe an hour-long play would have had just as much power and would have kept the audience more actively engaged.

* * *

Here’s a new comment from Matt Woelfel

“Via Dolorosa”

There is no other way to start a blog post about this performance than to congratulate David Bryan Jackson for an incredible performance! To memorize that many lines, each for different characters with different tones and intricacies, and then to do it with such conviction left me blown away. It caught me a bit off guard at first (when I had the opportunity to see it first in Ari Roth’s theater class) but once I trained my ear to follow the different characters, it was impressive. At times I even found myself closing my eyes (intentionally) to try and envision what each character might look like to accompany each interpretative voice.

Unlike Emily, I am much more of a stranger to this conflict, but I too focused on the line, “The Jews do not belong here.” I’m not the type of person that caves to others viewpoints just because mine is unpopular or rubs people the wrong way, but it seems that pretty much everyone around Israel, is not too happy about its existence as a country. Obviously there are religious beliefs involved which validate the opinions of both sides, but at the end of the day I might find myself asking is it prudent to be there? Furthermore, I find it a bit hypocritical for Israelis to hold hostage the people of Gaza, when they are so familiar with persecution themselves. They know how destructive and painful it is…but that is a bit too political for this particular Theater J blog entry.

Overall, it was an outstanding performance, and I am grateful for the continuing new experiences I have as a result of this class.

11 thoughts on “Via Dolorosa Reflections

  1. I was very impressed by the performance of Via Delarosa on Saturday. The play was very moving and I think it brought up a lot of questions that are still relevant today. I was amazed that the play was written over 10 years ago because the subject matter seemed so timely today. Maybe that’s the issue with the Arab/Israeli conflict. Why haven’t things gotten any better since the 90’s? We are still discussing the right of the settlements to exist in Gaza and the West Bank. We have had many rounds of peace negotiations since then, to no avail. That, I think, is what I got out of the play the most, that this conflict hasn’t really made a lot of progress over the past 10-15 years. The fact that this play can still be performed and seem relevant is a tragedy, though it is a great play don’t get me wrong.

    But I’m going off topic, which is very easy for me when it comes to this subject. The play also brought up a lot of serious issues with the Jewish homeland in Israel. What stuck with me the most was probably one of the most controversial lines in the play. When David is going to the West Bank and he is in the car and thinks to himself, “The Jews do not belong here”. That line really stuck with me. That’s how many Arabs feel and even though I am Jewish and fully support the right of Israel to exist where it is today, I could see how he could feel that way. Israel is a tiny Jewish state surrounded by many hostile Arab nations. I don’t think this line was meant against Israel, which I’m sure some people do, but an outsider’s wonderment about why a people would want to be in this place, surrounded by the enemy.

    But overall I felt that this play brought a new perspective of Israel to the table, one that encompassed all of the different views about the country and really talked to and brought attention to all the different people and points of view that exist. I was particularly intrigued by his visits to the settlements and Gaza and I feel that this aspect gives Via Delarosa something different to bring to the discussion of the Middle East conflict.

  2. While there were many important lines in this insightful play, I was focused on the statement of the West Bank settler who said, looking at the lights of a nearby Arab village, “I think they want to kill us.”.

    A very common feeling throughout all of Israel, and one which few Arab leaders have tried very hard to counter.

    It is hard to reach a peace settlement if you don’t trust that you will be safe and secure even if a settlement is reached. And the Palestinian negotiators are not in a position to guaranty that security.

    Of course, there is distrust on the Palestinian side as well, based largely on more than forty years of Israeli policy mistakes. But the fear that a Palestinian Authority cannot guarantee security, that Palestinians will never give up the argument that they should have a right of return, and that there will always be a movement (even if underground) to destroy the State of Israel does not bode well for peace

    From my view, peace requires the presence of strong international guardians. I wish the Israelis were not so distrustful of the UN and other international organizations, and I wish that so many UN agencies were not established and structured to press Palestinian goals. Unforunately, we are not the yet.

    Will we ever be?

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with Dan that, first and foremost, David Bryan Jackson needs to be commended for his incredible performance. After his working with a piece for ten years, the material for an actor can get stale and passé. Quite to the contrary, Mr. Jackson’s performance felt effortless and natural. Performing a one-man show is like running a marathon and I would like to personally applaud his amazing work.

    David Hare’s words presented a fresh perspective for this Middle East Festival. The audience had the opportunity to see the conflict through eyes unbiased by an Israeli or Palestinian identity. This playwright has the audacity, which so many others do not, to question if Jews belong in Israel and if Israel should exist as a state. Such questions are much easier digested when presented through art.

    As interesting as it is that this play is relevant ten years after it originally opened, I find it disheartening and unacceptable that relations in the Middle East have not improved in a decade. Although this conflict rests on Israeli soil, it is not truly about the land. These two peoples are arguing over a birthright, a home, and over entitlement. All in all, this play poses the question of when is this fighting going to stop? David says, “Where is the hope? What is the way forward?” and it saddens me that after ten years we still do not have an answer.

    I feel very privileged to have witnessed the Peace Café after the show was over. Although I am generally not the biggest fan of post show discussions, I thought that having a small community come together with open minds was the best way to leave the theatre after watching Via Dolorosa. At my table, one man commented that Israel was meant to be a secular state and at the same time a safe haven for the Jews. I felt that much of what was debated at the café was stemmed from Israel acting as theocracy. My views were broadened when people came forward to question if we really need Israel to act as a haven if it doesn’t provide a peaceful home. I definitely did not agree with what everyone was saying, but I am glad that different views had the opportunity to come forth and be shared.

    I left the JCC thinking to myself, stones or ideas? As one gentleman pointed out, we can use stones to build and create or we can throw stones and hurt one another. It is my hope, however idealistic it might sound, that if Via Dolorosa is performed ten years from now, the stones will remain on the ground as ideas flow freely in a peaceful middle eastern society.

  4. David Jackson turned in a strong performance on Saturday night in what was just another example of how Theater J continues to bring in well written and exceptionally performed pieces of art.
    Via Dolorosa is narrated through an individual who has no preexisting biases regarding the conflict, a characteristic that is difficult to find when reviewing plays focused on the Middle East. This neutrality helped me put away any biases that I may have and made the credibility of the speaker that much stronger.

    Two major ideas stuck out to me upon completion of the play. The first occurred when the speaker was abruptly swept away to speak to a leader of Hamas. His reaction to hearing such news was cluelessness. He didn’t really know anything about the Palestinian side of things, their story, what to ask the Hamas leader. His ignorance is something that many people have regarding Palestinians and their story. After the post-show discussion for Return to Haifa, a representative from the PLO said that she is frustrated because her peoples’ story can never stand on its own. A member of the panel said this is sadly the case because the Palestinian story doesn’t interest as many people or carry as much weight as the Israeli story. That’s very unfortunate, and if more people would take the time to understand the Palestinian story, there would be less prejudice and misconceptions against them.

    Via Dolorosa was well performed and wonderfully written, but it was a pessimistic piece that left me with feelings of hopelessness for an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The people the speaker spoke with seemed to think the situation was hopeless or they didn’t show any signs that they were willing to compromise on any front for progress to be possible. That was 10 years ago and the situation is as polarized as ever. For the sake of the people of the region, lets hope things change soon.

  5. I was extremely impressed with David Bryan Jackson’s performance in Via Dolorosa. Jackson’s ability to fluidly change accents and demeanor to embody different characters that David Hare interviewed captured my attention. More specifically, Jackson’s self-reflection as David Hare peaked my interest throughout the play.

    During Via Dolorosa, Hare interviews varying Israelis and Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories set ten years ago. Each interview seems to unnerve the character more and more, effectively molding his views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although the interviews held portrayed strong and opinionated characters, I felt the themes of the play captured my attention most.

    To begin, a sense of urgency overtakes every character in Via Dolorosa. Hare, as well as his interviewees have a feeling of unease and fear that the current existence of Israelis and Palestinians is unsustainable. It was eerie to watch a play where characters from ten years ago foreshadowed the massive eruption of civil unrest experienced in the Middle East today.

    Another aspect of the play that I enjoyed was the fact that Jackson took his audience along Hare’s journey of personal awakening. As Hare suddenly feels that Jewish people do not belong in Israel, the audience begins to hear more accounts of Palestinian hardship and poverty surrounding the state. These difficult emotions were tactfully expressed and definitely made an impact on the discussions held following the performance.

    I had the opportunity to attend the Peace Café following Via Dolorosa. I loved that the audience was literally able to break bread with one another while discussing the performance and the politics behind Via Dolorosa. I did not necessarily agree with what some people were saying during the discussion, but I believe that is the beauty of the Peace Café. I felt that unpopular and seemingly politically incorrect opinions were expressed without severe judgment, ultimately encouraging a broad discussion of a tender topic. A man at my table was one of the last to speak and I think he appropriately summed up the essence of the Peace Café, as well as Via Dolorosa. Quoting Rabbi Bratzlav he said, “The whole world is a narrow bridge, and the essential thing is not to fear at all”. By promoting these relevant theater productions and discussions I truly feel that Theater J helps people to cross over.

  6. Of all the monologues I have seen and read this semester, I would have to say I enjoyed Via Dolorosa the most. David Hare’s story really captures a bunch of angles to the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and does it in a way that seems to grasp the audience in different ways. I think a large part of why I enjoyed this piece so much was due to the fact that David Bryan Jackson was the performer. The combination of Mr. Hare’s writing and Mr. Jackson’s performance really allowed me to focus in on Via Dolorosa and leave the theater with a positive experience and impression.

    I would have to say the monologue really moved me because of two major things. The first was the use of comedy intertwined in such a serious subject. I feel the entire audience seemed to enjoy and appreciate the comedy as well. It was “in good taste” and added a dimension to the performance. The second aspect I enjoyed was the constant moving around the region. In 90 minutes, the play visited Tel Aviv, Jaffa, Sheri Tikva, Jerusalem, Gaza, and Ramallah. I felt Via Dolorosa seemed to flow better than other monologues and felt like one large story rather than various smaller stories told back to back. I also thought the narrator was a key component to the flow. David Hare’s words help guide the audience (especially me) through his journey and experiences while still allowing the many people and characters involved in the story tell their sides and add & offer insights to the conflict.

    As we discussed in class, I did not get a sense of a pro-Israeli or anti-Israeli attitude after the performance. I think having the actor and writer be British helped with my sediment and I thought since the story traveled to Arab and Jewish lands and talked to an assortment of people brought a balanced feeling when I left the theater. Towards the end, the narrator points out that Christianity is seen as the “little brother” to Islam and Judaism in the region. I never really thought about this before until I saw Via Dolorosa. It is interesting because Christianity is a major, world-wide religion. However, no one really comments on Christianity because the angle that is often portrayed is Jews vs. Arabs. The play was great and not too many times have I laughed so much as well as think seriously at what was presented. The writing and acting were both superb.

  7. In Via Dolorosa, David Hare presents an insightful perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As an outsider visiting Tel Aviv and Ramallah for the first time, Hare seeks to understand the conflict as he observes daily life and interactions between Israelis and Palestinians. Through observations, such as the uneven allocation of water between Israelis and the Palestinian minority in Tel Aviv, Hare concludes that the conflict has implications beyond its political aspects. The people of both countries have internalized hatred and express it through discrimination.

    Hare is surprised by the amount of effort put into discriminatory treatment, and he wonders whether the conflict can be justified. In the end, he concludes that neither side is fighting over “stones,” or land, anymore, but over “ideas.” He believes that the Jews have always felt victimized and that they must assert their power by defending the land that is theirs. However, land is simply a placeholder because they are actually fighting to escape the struggles of their past. Therefore, a fight that started over land and religious differences has become more about national pride. It has become a battle between “in-groups” and “out-groups.” Through Hare’s realization and disillusion, he prompts the audience to question whether the conflict could have been easily resolved and has been perpetuated for the wrong reasons. Still, both countries have become so involved and caught up in the fight, that they must distance themselves from it to understand Hare’s rational outsider’s perspective.

    This reading was strikingly different than the other readings in the festival because Hare was able to offer a disconnected look into the Middle East conflict. Audience members in the same position could identify with Hare and trust his judgment about the conflict.

  8. I had a different experience when I watched Via Dolorosa compared to the other festival plays. I was not fixated with the politics of the middle east conflict, but I was rather impressed by the technique and theatrical presentation made by David Bryan Jackson. Since we had the privilege to see a sneak peek of his performance in class, I could not help but pay attention to the changes he made in his presentation. I was paying closer attention to his words, tones, body language and facial expressions more than the content of the play. I felt a bit like a director rather than an audience, until he passed the point of the performance that we did not get to watch in class. I appreciated the combination of tragedy and comedy within a play that reminded me a lot of Shakespearean plays.

    The personal journey of Hare through Israel was bitter-sweet, and it never occurred to me how still relevant the experiences portrayed in the play was for individuals of that heritage today. The Peace Cafe shined in the light of the pain people carried at the time and still carry in the present. I gained much more respect for this issue and I learned more than I knew about the significance of a land on its people. At the Peace Cafe I wore the shoe of the observer, because I felt that I had no place to interject my academic philosophies of the conflict. I wanted to keep the space as a sacred space where individuals can use to reflect and acknowledge their emotions.

    To sit at the Peace Cafe and listen to various personal perspectives humanized the entire experience, more than theater partially does. You can really feel people’s frustration and discomfort, not in a bad way, the cafe provided the platform for communication, it became real life evidence that people want to get out of this vicious cycle in hopes to find some sort of compromise.

  9. Via Dolorosa is a terrific explanation of a man’s journey through Israel, both physically and intellectually. As David Bryan Jackson experiences the differences of the Jewish and Palestinian areas of the state, he realizes that the perceptions that he had accepted all the way in Britain were not congruent with the true experiences he had while in the country itself. The show is an excellent portrayal of one character’s recognition of his misconceptions, and the influence that direct experience can have on a person’s beliefs.

    Jackson’s performance during class was valuable in that it allowed me to understand how the monologue play would be carried out. It was astonishing to see him seamlessly transition from character to character, as he showed us multiple sides of the same issue. I particularly enjoyed the fact that there was only one actor, as it allowed me to focus in on his journey from unaware Englishman to an enlightened and traveled tourist. The most interesting part of the play was when he comes to the realization that the Jews do not belong here. It seems to be a shocking revelation to him, as I am sure it would be for many Western Europeans or Americans. As he struggles to come to grips with this epiphany, David must also journey to understand the opposing story: that of the Palestinians. I felt that this diametric exposition of different cultures, ideals, and beliefs allows the audience to grasp at least a piece of the conflict which we have never experienced before.

    Jackson is able to take us to both sides of the conflict and expose parts of each argument that we have never thought about or realized. Via Dolorosa allows the audience to experience a trip to Israel, and the political challenges they face there, in an intimate yet informative manner. It certainly gave me a few things to think about by the end.

  10. One of the most interesting subtexts that I saw in Via Dolorosa was the fluid concept of “Jewishness”. Throughout the monologue, our guide David Hare presents many contrasting perspectives on the true meaning of “Jewishness” as viewed by different characters. To some, being Jewish is intrinsically tied to religion, to others is a cultural concept, and to others still, it is a personal set of values and ethics. Together, the characters’ views create a patchwork of perspectives on Israel and the Jewish people and provide an honest look at a very complex idea.

    One of the early characters, David Grossman, claims that he is not religious in any capacity, but that he is “as Jewish as the next person.” He goes on to explain that in his eyes, the 6 day war was detrimental to the Jewish people, because the religious Jews began viewing the bible as a “present day operations manual”-condoning violence in the name of God and detracting from the sense of community and love between his people. He also asserts that before the war, people didn’t place importance on the ownership of the physical land of Israel, but rather on the concept and its inherent meaning. He sums it up well with this statement, “Of course I want access to the wailing wall, but to do so I do not need to own it”. In his eyes, “Jewishness” is not determined by physical land or by religion, but rather by a connection to a shared history and culture.

    I have always considered Judaism as a religion first and foremost, but the play allowed me to consider how, to many people, Israel represents much more than just a religion. It is a way of life, and the characters of Via Dolorosa brought this to light in a very thought provoking way.

  11. My classmates have commented on the quality of the monologue that is Via Dolorosa. While I both enjoyed and respected David Hare’s objective to view both the Israeli and Palestinian areas, and people involved in the conflict in order to understand it fully, my attention was not entirely grasped by the piece. I found myself zoning out in the audience and losing what was occurring in the play. After this occurred, it was difficult for me to catch up. Who was speaking? With whom was David Hare speaking? And what area is he in again? These were the questions that spun through my mind as I was trying to get back on pace with David Hare’s adventure through the region.

    I do not necessarily blame David Bryan Jackson for my inability to keep up with the monologue, however, perhaps the voices of the other people could have been more pronounced to aid in distinguishing between their voices, and his own character’s.

    Aside for this single issue with the performance, I found it to be an incredibly neutral piece considering it centers on a very contentious conflict. As my classmates have mentioned, it was easy to relate with David Hare as he traveled throughout the region as an outsider, because this is similar to the my relation to the conflict as well. I also respected his initiative in traveling to both Israeli and Palestinian lands, and getting to know the people of each respective area. It is impossible to evaluate anything, whether it is this conflict or a policy issue, in isolation. I thought David Hare looked at the issue objectively, which is the only appropriate way to do so in order to gain a full understanding.

Comments are closed.