Middle East Festival Concludes with THE ADMISSION – Reactions and Reflections

If we weren’t hurtling from one rehearsal to the next, from one major undertaking to our once-a-year benefit this evening, then perhaps we’d have more breathing space for reflections from our festival — from our culminating presentation last night of Motti Lerner’s THE ADMISSION. All in due time, of course, the meanings, the truths, the impact will all surface and be voiced. Until then, a first devastated reaction from a wonderful follower of so many of our festival offerings. (May many others share responses as well…)

from Marsheda Ewulomi

I left the theater with a weight of emotion. I could not speak. I could just listen to my music during the walk home, feeling the wind and fighting/embracing some force unknown to myself. Kelly Rowland’s “This is Love” was on playing over and over again on my small black mp3 player. The string instruments soothed my shaken spirit while strengthening the shake’s intensity. On the surface, I am sure I appeared to be enjoying an evening walk through a beautifully lit Washington D.C. In fact I was enjoying the walk. I enjoyed the not speaking, the turmoil, the fact that I am feeling and not numb even if I was unsure of what that feeling was per say.

It was not until I entered the safety of my empty apartment that my face fell and the tears along with it. Here crouched in prayer position I saw my grayish blue carpet sprinkled with many colors and different hues. I saw the bones of my anger, my own past, and my own destruction. You see I was having a lot of trouble with this festival because I subconsciously felt that I was betraying myself. As an African American who is unsure of at least half of her roots (my father is Nigerian and my mother is black), I am watching a people argue over having a known refuge, that they can see, taste and feel. I felt as if I was trying to learn of a solution for another people when I cannot stop the killing in my neighborhoods, in my schools, when I cannot get my people to realize that they should fight for their refuge. I am not proud of these feelings—a human’s problem is not tainted by social identity. But it was how I felt. Somehow this play showed me how wrong I was. Wrong not because I was not justified. I have the right to be pissed, the same way each party in the Arab and Israeli conflict has that right as well.

The problem is not in the justification of anger; the problem is the point of focus. Should we be focusing on our anger, on our past, on our dead? I ask this because Giora, the play’s main protagonist, was obsessed with the idea of digging up the graves of the dead, giving them a proper burial, and a headstone that listed the names of the Arabs massacred at the site. I can understand this notion. We must address a wound in order for it to begin to heal. But is it worth bandaging the leg of a deceased man, while there is an injured man whose blood is being lost as you look to the dead man? I do not condone his father’s desire to bury the story. I do not agree with humanity’s cycle of repression. I can understand while disagreeing and agreeing with both sides. Similar to this play, life is not a binary argument. That is why I could see my own destruction as I looked at my speckled carpet. Each speck represented living human being and each moment I spent being caught in the past I was allowing the death count increase. Humanity needs to find the balance between dealing with the dead (the past) and encouraging the living (the present). We have to find this balance because the past and present coexist, they are not the two separate entities that we try to make them out to be.
The play ends with the image of a collapsed Giora on a hill while his mother holds the memorial service for his previously fallen brother. The image gives the impression of yet another life being claimed by the past.

Of course, the play was so much more complex portrayed here and was brilliant in the tension between themes and characters. But I had to comment on what the piece invoked in me. People walk around hurt, afraid that one day their hurt will show itself to the outside world. I cannot help but think that we were not created to kill each other, to hide our hurt by justifying our conviction to kill.

If you get the opportunity to see “The Admission” do not hesitate to make it to the theater.

Thank you,
Marsheda Ewulomi

12 thoughts on “Middle East Festival Concludes with THE ADMISSION – Reactions and Reflections

  1. While I cannot articulate my experience quite as poetically as Marsheda has done before me, I would like to share what most interested (and upset) me in Theater J’s reading of “The Admission”. I too had an emotional reaction to the reading, but mine cannot be attributed to the conflict at large, or even the killings revealed. While the bigger picture and the revelation at the reading’s end are incredibly important, shocking, and tragic, I was most upset on a more micro level. The illustration of a broken family because of this conflict filled me with emotion. So many relationships suffered the consequences in this play.

    This conflict is not simply a large, looming problem to be solved. It is affecting individuals and their families on a very real and personal level. It broke my heart to see a father and son torn apart by a violent past. The actors portrayed their characters with great complexity. I could feel the tension between them.

    For me, the Middle East Festival has succeeded in illustrating the reality of the conflict by portraying individual stories with different voices that resound in a common experience of suffering. I believe that Marsheda was able to connect with “The Admission” on a personal level because a story of conflict is universal. In my opinion, what has made these productions exceptional is their ability to convey a message that touches audience members from all backgrounds, speaking not only to a specific culture, but to a human experience.

  2. Before anything else, I would like to acknowledge the actors for a job well done at last night’s reading. In my opinion, there was not a weak link in this cast. Dan Crane, Jennifer Mendenhall, and Norman Aronovic in particular gave standout performances. Throughout this festival I have seen some wonderful acting (and surprisingly so since it can be difficult to perform fully with a script in hand). I hold the cast of The Admission in the highest regard for their work during this reading.

    There was no way to prepare for the amount of conflicting and heart wrenching emotion I was about to feel as I walked into Theatre J yesterday for the finale of the Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival. Even after I have had some time to process the play, it is difficult for me to put my thoughts into words. During the post show discussion, I was comforted that many of the other audience members were feeling similar emotions: sad, confused, overwhelmed, and hopeless.

    The Admission is the story of Jewish and Arab families struggling to uncover the truth of the past while attempting to move forward in life peacefully. This play was difficult to swallow because it was an account of normal people. These were not extremists or radical thinkers, but average human beings. In the first act we become attached to these people and their personal lives. The love triangle between Giora, Samya, and Neta humanized the characters. Just as I was starting to sympathize with Giora, Act II begins and his pursuit of truth drives him insane. This 180 change took the audience on an emotional roller coaster. As one patron commented during the post-show discussion, there were too many climaxes during the show. It seemed that in every scene you were hit hard in the heart once again by a new realization, argument, or outburst. Although I felt these powerful scenes effectively elicited emotion from the audience, it was exhausting to watch. I definitely left the theatre drained.

    Giora says, “It’s not enough to believe. I want to know.” I value Giora’s desire to find truth and I do think there is value in understanding the past. But where should we draw the line? Giora’s desire to dig up the graves of the dead literally drives him crazy. When is it okay to leave the past alone? I appreciate Marsheda’s comment about disagreeing with humanity’s cycle of repression. There is a lot of worth in knowing the truth of a people’s history and struggle. And still, I also felt myself agreeing with the character Samya when she said, “If there are bones, let them crumble.” It came to a point in the story where trying to uncover the truth was hurting more people than it was helping.

    If anything, this play shows that killing is not the answer. Hate is not the answer. War is not the answer. How many more lives will it take to realize this?

  3. From what I can tell, The Admission seems to be a cross between a mind-bending portrayal of paranoia and a study of PTSD. While this at first sounds harsh and mean-spirited, I mean it as perhaps the exact opposite: it is, in fact, an excellent portrayal of how military conflict (especially in the respect of Israel) can have such a profound effect on both the mind and body of a person and those around them. Though the twists and turns were off-putting at times, the overall message of the influence of war on a person is both powerful and heartfelt.

    The families shown in The Admission are like many of the families we have seen throughout this festival: dysfunctional, irreverent, and sometimes downright schizophrenic. The conflict of the past always seems to creep in and affect the lives of those in the present, as they struggle to reconcile past, present and future in the turbulent Middle East. As sons fight fathers, sister/fiancé fight brother/future husband, and as a mother tries to play peacekeeper, the pain of the past manifests itself in physical ailments that different characters must deal with throughout the story. As all the male characters try to deal with the knowledge of the horrors of way, their psyches are stretched to the brink as they try to reconcile their stories with each other. This confluence of knowledge eventually leads to the collapse of familial relations, and a descent into each individual’s own type of mental breakdown.

    The Admission focuses on the effects that war has on a body and mind, as well as a family and a country. As each character tries to make sense of the unwinding exposition of the truth, the audience must also make sense of the change we see in the characters onstage. Through seeing these trials played out before us, we may be better to understand the effects that traumatic truths may have on us.

  4. The Admission portrayed a man’s struggle to escape his guilt by justifying his past crimes rather than accepting his faults. Reassuring himself that his actions in the war were rational, Avigdor, a former Colonel in the Israeli army, uses a great deal of effort to bury his past. Although Avigdor committed his crime many years ago and has learned to cope with it, it is something that follows him throughout his life.

    Avigdor has achieved inner peace over this issue, but he cannot escape the consequences when his son, Giora learns of his crime. Giora seeks the truth about his father after first hearing the story of the killing in Jirin from Ibrahim. He is disturbed by his father’s crime because he feels that he blindly fought for the same cause during his time in the army and he cannot believe that he contributed to this injustice. When the truth is revealed, Giora’s family dynamics change, as his father and his mother, Yona, try to convince him that Avigdor killed the people of Jirin out of a sense of duty.

    The audience can see that Avigdor feels guilty after his crime is uncovered because he bulldozes the land where the bones of the dead are. He cannot accept the fact that there is evidence of his crime and destroys any trace of it, attempting to escape his past. However, Avigdor can never be at peace with himself over the shooting in Jirin because he cannot destroy his memory of it.

    The Admission showed that not only can guilt follow someone, but it can be passed on to others. Although he does not deserve it, Giora must bear the burden of his father’s actions.

  5. Instead of watching the Oscars, I watched a reading! And it was completely worth it. It was a nice evening and the theater was almost full.
    To me, “The Admission” came across as a very serious play, there were some laughs, but they were reduced to the first few scenes. After that the play started to become much more serious and centered around the issue that the main character, Avigdor, had to deal with.
    I found myself deciding behind Avidgor’s father and the other characters father. I think both had valid points in their arguments. I understand the reasons what Avidgor’s father had to do what he did. He though what he did was for the better.
    I can imagine there must have many conflicts similar to this one around Israel at the time of the attack.
    Avidgor, I believe, was the cause to his own end. He drove himself mad in search of the truth and in end would refuse to believe anyone. I think even if his father admitted to the crime, Avidgor would still not believe and would ask his father for more.
    Although the play had a good plot, I believe it was not as dramatic. I believe the story was a little stretched and there was not enough conflict in it. The issue was around Avidgor and his search for the truth and that alone I think was not enough to hold throughout the entire play. I felt as if the play needed another element.

  6. After seeing The Admission, I seemed to leave Theater J relating (or at least thinking about) a play more than I had ever before during the Middle East Festival. There were many layers of the reading and script that hit me at different emotional levels. First, the ending was very surprising and it helped me revisit other plays I had seen and readings I attended. Second, the relationships, especially the love triangle Giora was involved with. Finally, the father-son relationship between Giora and Avigdor struck a personal emotional nerve.

    The play’s ending was somewhat a surprise for me. I am not saying that Theater J’s productions have been any form of “mega Pro-Israeli” theater, but some plays have felt more pro-Israeli (Theater J is at the JCC after all). I ended up going back over the other works from the festival and realized usually I ended up leaving shows and readings concerned with a family theme or something other than an Arab-Israeli conflict, which I must say is a great sign from the performances at Theater J. The plays and readings have been able to capture more than just whether I thought it was pro-Arab or pro-Israeli.

    The relationships in the play were quite disturbing to me. As a young man I understand that some people “fool around” with multiple partners and have open relationships. However, what Giora was doing was pretty shameful in my eyes. I think adultery is horrible and to lead people on like he did, whoever it may be, is deceitful and wrong. Yes, I felt bad for what he went through and experienced, but the way he acted made me give no pity. Two wrongs do not make a right as the old cliché goes, and I believe just because Giora had problems in his life it should not allow him to play with the emotions of two people the way he did.

    The last thing I wanted to discuss was the father-son dynamic of the play. Although I am not a father…yet, I actually believe Avigdor may have received more “heat” from his son than perhaps he disserved. I am in no way condoning what he did to the village and the people. However, during tough times intermixed in war, fights, and conflicts, I tend to take the approach of “do what must be done” or “follow your instructions from superiors.” Avigdor, in my opinion, probably hiding the real story from his family was probably best. Giora always claimed his father was after power and wealth. When I heard those statements, I simply thought of a father and husband trying to provide the best for his family and ensure their future security. My father has encouraged me heavily on certain things and I have felt pressure to succeed or accomplish what he wants. I also believe that 99% of fathers truly just want their sons to have the greatest opportunities in life and maybe avoid some of the hardships they endured as younger males.

  7. The Admission was a story of obligation, betrayal and guilt. Avigdor a man who appears as a martyr in the opening scene is only later revealed as a fallen soul. A man who tries to escape his guilt hides underneath the mask of charity. An individual who was once seen as a respectable man who helps Ibrahim and his family run their restaurant is stripped down of his dignity by a single moment of realization by Ibrahim of his killling in Jirin.

    It was heartbreaking to witness Giora crushed by the crime his father has committed. It is unbearable to see a strong bond between a father and son shatter due to this shocking moment of truth. It is always unfathomable when we come to discover someone who was so close to us is not the person we knew them for or is not the person we think they are.

    It was ironic that Ibrahim felt this sends of indebtedness towards Advigor serving him at the restaurant when in the end it was Advigor who had an insurmountable of debt towards Ibrahim. Truly, the truth does prevail and this story is another lesson that we might try to hide from the truth but by doing so we only create a bigger ripple in the water. Advigor tried to shield the pain of his guilt, but he only ended up hurting the rest of his family and many others.

  8. After reading “The Admission” I found that my main reaction to the play was aggravation. Specifically, I was most aggravated by the character Giora and his treatment of the other characters and of himself. While it is obvious that the complicated family dynamics that were present in this play were only further complicated by their shared violent past, I found Giora to a very hypocritical character who frustrated me to no end. It is understandable why Giora would want to know and understand the details of his father Avigdor’s life, however Giora, in my opinion, was obsessed with the past for the wrong reasons.

    It seemed that Giora used his obsession with his father’s war crimes to help alleviate his guilt about his own murder of families during the war. This is not to say that Avigdor’s murderous past is inconsequential or that the truth should not be known, but that Giora went about his investigation of his father’s past in the wrong manner and for the less than innocent reasons. It is undeniable that he has a right to know what occurred, but Giora appeared to want to find out this information to use as a reason to further resent his father and create more turmoil.

    On the other hand, it is also worth mentioning that Avigdor ‘s character was far from saint-like and that he did try to constantly smother his son. This fact, however, does not give Giora the permission to treat others-most of all his family-with such malicious intent. This is also demonstrated by Giora’s disregard towards Neta whom he carelessly drags along for no particular reason. For me, “The Admission” interestingly showcased Giora’s less that perfect character and how he functioned in a less than perfect world.

  9. I found it hard to sympathize with conflicts among the characters in The Admission.

    I couldn’t stand Samya and Giora’s adulterous relationship. I was bothered by Avigdor and Neta’s pressuring Giora into marriage, a job, and home. I found Ibrahim’s senile “remembering” then “forgetting” ridiculous. I longed for Giora and Avigdor to get to the truth with one another, and get along, and was sympathetic with Yona as she tried to mediate between her husband and son to keep her family together to help remember Udi, the one son she had already lost. I felt bad for Avigdor as his son continued to blame him and see him as the bad guy.

    There were very few enjoyable feelings I experienced while reading this play, if any at all.

    My frustrations I describe are similar to those that Kirsten has mentioned before me. In her analysis of Giora’s actions, she mentions his desire to learn about the violence of the past in order to justify his own militant actions. I find this compelling. Throughout the piece, Giora seems to be trying to find truth about what truly happened in Jirin. However, if this was his true motive, he is going about it in the wrong way, as he pushes nearly every character away from him. He pushes his family away through his visiting with Ibrahim’s family. He pushes Neta away with them. He pushes Azmi away by continuing to visit his home, even after he is asked several times not to, especially to see Samya. If Giora wanted to just know what happened in Jinir, he should have gone about things differently.

  10. The Admission, while beautiful, is quite painful to read. Not a single character is satisfied with the life they have left, and as the lies and secrets begin unfolding, the whole group is thrown into a swirling confusion of disappointment, blame, and guilt. Like many of the plays in the Middle East Festival presented by Theater J, the audience continually struggles to paint one character (or one family) as the hero, and condemn another as the villain. Our efforts to do so are in vain, however, and by the end of the play, I was overwhelmed by the lack of resolution, and my mind was swimming with all the complicated choices each character was forced into making.

    I see many similarities in Giora and Azmi. The themes I touched on earlier of disappointment, blame, and guilt are coursing through their storylines from the beginning. Giora is guilty for the innocent people that he killed and is desperately trying to blame his father for “programming” him to become a killer. He repeatedly reveals his disgust and disappointment in his father because of the many people that he killed, however he once admits that he would have done the same. He is angry and broken, and because there is no appropriate method for him to channel this emotion, he uses Avigdor as a scapegoat. Similarly, Azmi feels like a failure because of his struggling restaurant, only made possible through loans from Avigdor, who he knows had a hand in the Arab massacre. He is disappointed in his father for not standing up for his people, and blames him for the position that all of them are now in.

    While it is hard to find a character that I fully do respect, the one that I actually respect the least is Yona. Perhaps I am being too harsh on her, but I did not appreciate her attempts to make peace like many of my peers appeared to. Instead, I feel like she continually tries to sweep all of the pain under the rug and deny the unbearable complications of their struggles. I understand that she is most likely using them as a coping mechanism, and that she seeks peace within her family, but I cannot get past the fact that she is willing to side with whoever, to lie and cover up truths and to go behind each’s back in order to create a façade of peace.

  11. The Admission achieved the difficult task of bringing its audience into a world where I forgot that I was at a reading rather than a fully prepared production. The actors smoothly transitioned between lines and scenes. Additionally, the intensity of the script kept me focused on the emotional disaster unfolding before me.
    The story describes Giora, a young man searching for answers from the past. A confrontation with Palestinian friends leaves his father, Avigdor, with a stab wound and Giora full of questions. As Giora gets closer to the truth of the murders his father helped to commit, the main character spirals into madness. The Admission illustrates one man’s destruction, and the chaos among family and friends that his journey creates.
    The message I took away from the play was neither simple nor satisfying. I found myself feeling conflicted between the importance of finding out what is real and leaving the truth behind to maintain the status quo. I found it noble of Giora to search for the truth behind the killings in Jirin despite the implications it would have on his father’s honor. However, Giora’s quest leads to not only his own madness but also strains on several other individuals’ mental stabilities.
    There are no black and white situations in this production. The play smudges all lines into a gray mess of ambiguity. Several peak moments throughout The Admission were stressful, but I think that was the point of the play. We were not necessarily meant to leave with some sense of closure on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On the contrary, by addressing the complications of the conflict this play encourages audience members to truly look at the ongoing battles regular civilians face. It places ordinary relationships, such as father/son exchanges and marital conflicts, in extraordinary situations. Even though the implications are not necessarily positive, the reading highlights the importance behind gray.

  12. The Admission, by Motti Lerner, treads similar ground as I’m Speaking to You Chinese: It employs the persistence and power of memory as a demon that plagues, and threatens to tear at, a family unit. Giora was a lead character that perplexed me. Burdened by his family and his people’s history, Giora’s indignant search for answers where people refused them was noble. Despite this, his personal life was embroiled in domestic drama and his lack of appreciation for Neta, his seemingly disposal of Samya when she is no longer helpful, and his glaring hubris all contributed to characteristics that proved less than likeable, much less ones easily empathetic. Hubris seemed to be a recurring trait throughout, blanketing all of the men involved in the interfamilial drama. In contrast, the women of each family seemed to only serve the purpose to soften their men, challenging their masculine pride but never truly succeeding. Another interesting component of The Admission is that it is placed within Giora’s reflections as reflects in solitude atop a hill. As compelling as this device is, it fails to illuminate anything else about Giora. Lerner exhumes a family’s dark past, juxtaposing it with a man’s crisis of conscience, but I felt as though Giora’s crisis of conscience became a self-fulfilling prophecy. He was alone. He had achieved no insight not already tainted with his judgment. Finally, we never knew how or if he had truly changed, if his pilgrimage to the Wadi had initiated the catharsis it seemed plotted. Beyond these themes, there were vernacular elements within the play that struck me. The recurring use of the term “libel” reminded me of the recent controversy surrounding the term “blood libel”, the controversial fallacy used to connect religious minorities with the slaughter of children for religious purposes. This was interesting given the multiple allusions to the slaughter of children and of the young; it functioned almost as Avigdor’s subtle admission of guilt, a self-flagellation of sorts. Finally, I wish the representation of generational confrontation within Jewish and Palestinian families would have been leveraged more equally, as I often felt the Palestinian family only served as a catalyst for Jewish revelation and confrontation.

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