Could it get any busier? The last week has seen a bounty of programming, plays, and panels the likes of which we haven’t experienced in quite some time. Everyday a new drama, both related to our Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival and beyond it as well. Let’s take the days one at a time:
♦ Wednesday, January 23, we welcome Norwegian Ambassador to the United States, the honorable Wegger Strommen. He talks to our audience at the curtain speech, the cast leaning in from the wings, about his country’s most famous playwright, Henrik Ibsen, and Ibsen’s penchant for writing provocative plays promoting social justice, free expression of the individual’s conscience, and a life-long commitment to formal innovation and personal transformation. The Ambassador speaks of his time spent in Israel as a diplomat and notes that Ibsen himself would be smiling on our important, up-to-the-minute-relevant producion of BOGED.
♦ Thursday, January 24 – a talkback with cast of BOGED allows audience members to reflect on the amazing steps forward the production has taken both since first preview and opening night. How is it that a show that began performances on January 13 is now so much tighter, stronger, more confident and detailed now, so much that it draws a unanimous standing ovation from the audience that night? So reflect more than a few audience members who have returned for the performance. Indeed the cast recounts the frenzy of cuts and rewrites that accompanied the final says of rehearsal as our playwrights returned from Israel to take in tech and dress rehearsals. As with almost all new plays, there are adjustments to be made throughout the preview process. Unique to this process, there were changes being made — critical adjustments in fact to Tommy Douany’s last speech — even after opening night. these are changes being worked on collaboratively, long distance, between the actor, the playwright, the director and the artistic director, finding a final, careful balance to the final exhortation, indictment and constructive “Way Forward Into The Future” that had not been sufficiently nailed down, nor perfectly articulated on Opening Night. But now we’ve got it! Finally! A bit later than we might have liked, but it’s now fully there. The whole journey. The artists keep working and digging. And that process continues for the entire cast!
♦ Friday, January 25, we enjoy a world premiere reading of two one-act plays culled from Hebrew source material: “Testimonies from IDF Soldiers and Inductees: A Tapestry of Voices.” (Read student comments about the one-acts here together with reflections on our Tuesday night reading, described later, below).
A program of verbatim, transcript-derived documentary theater pieces. Igal Ezraty’s THE TRIAL OF THE REFUSENIKS, first seen at the Akko Festival for Alternative Theatre, presents the military trial of five Israeli conscientious objectors and the arguments of the prosecuting and defense attorneys and presiding judges (directed and edited by Christopher Mirto.)
This is followed by excerpts of interviews from WOMEN SOLDIERS SPEAK–part of the Breaking the Silence project–an organization made up of IDF veterans who have served in the Territories in the past decade and who seek to share their day-to-day encounter with Palestinians with the Israeli public (adapted and directed by Jessica Lefkow.)
Our Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery was packed with 55 people for the readings, rivited by the authentic, searing voices; the youthful idealism of the high school age activists and the hard-bitten observations of the young female soldiers. An extensive, probing hour long conversation in a circle ensued with over twenty deeply affected audience members as the snow fell outside.
♦ Saturday, January 26, our Shabbat Post Show Discussion featured a reading of plays on Guns and the Issue of Gun Control, a project initiated by the No Passport Theatre on New York in response to the nationally convened March on Washington for Gun Control. No Passport theatre alliance & press, founded by 2012 OBIE-award winning playwright Caridad Svich, sent out A Call For Scripts, and received over 120 five-minute plays to be considered for the program we presented in conjunction with a free theatre action to support gun control in collaboration with Georgetown University, Theater J, and the local DC interdisciplinary arts ensemble, Force/Collision, and Twinbiz.
Eventually 13 plays were chosen, including new work by playwrights Neil LaBute (Reasons To Be Pretty), Jennifer Maisel (The Last Seder), Oliver Mayer (Blade to the Heat), Winter Miller (In Darfur), Matthew Paul Olmos (I put the fear of Mexico in ‘em), Ian Rowlands (Welsh Arts Council), Gary Winter (13p), August Schulenberg (Flux Theatre Ensemble, NY), Caridad Svich (The House of the Spirits) and others under the direction of the force/collision ensemble. See a separate posting on the event for more comments and an excerpt from one of the most touching of the plays.
♦ Sunday, January 27, our media sponsor, The Forward presents a post-matinee panel on The Recent Israeli Elections: “Impact at Home and in a Transforming Region” Soon we’ll be posting video and some further description for the panel Moderated by Forward DC Bureau Chief Nathan Guttman and featuring:
• Jeremy Ben-Ami , Founder and President of J Street
• Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen, Senior Program Officer in the Center for Conflict Management, United States Institute of Peace
• Dan Raviv of CBS Radio, author of Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.
♦ That same night, at 9:30 our Post Show Clergy-in-Conversation series is facilitated by Rabbi Bruce Lustig of Washington Hebrew Congregation. As Council member Stephen Stern reflects in a note to Boaz Gaon,
“About 75 people from a pretty full audience stay – a lot of reflections on our implications in all the social, personal, environmental political themes — how “we are all in this in together”, there are arrays of interests and manipulations — meets concerns of what happen to heros, to those who speak truth, how we need them, why we need them, are they self-destructive, is their a postive call and legacy to a younger generation, and such. Bruce’s response is below.
“Stephen: Thanks.. It was great to be there and to see such a powerful and well done production. I was delighted to see at least 15 or 20 WHC folks at the show. I do not believe we would reach these folks without such collaboration. I look forward to brain storming on new innovative opportunities to bring WHC and Theater J in to new partnerships! Thanks for giving our community such powerful art each and every day!
MBL” [Rabbi Bruce Lustig]
that afternoon the panel was sizzling, honing in on the election and the issues from the coalition-building. Co-sponsored by The Forward, it’s Israeli, US-based reporter Nathan Guttman moderated with Jeremy Ben-Ami, Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen (Palestine-Israel and regional programs at US Institute of Peace), and Dan Raviv of CBS Radio (writes a lot with Yossi Melman on Israel Intelligence). A lot of really lucid back and forth on forces that surfaced in the election and what’s coming in the coalition-building, impact and interplay of domestic focus, and possible regional and peace process implications and contradictions.
Some highlights that focused on the themes of the play: In terms of coalition-building, Dan wondered about the “spirit of Rothschild” that was an eternity of 18 months ago in Middle East time. How would those forces play out in the coalition. One lesson from the play and politics he saw, was that opportunities for “selling out” would present themselves to TV journalists and others. Lucy saw the often harsh and bitter take on the forces at work in the society — also contained a powerful wake-up call as a big takeaway. Jeremy told of his meeting you and others at Beit Ha’am and hearing the aspirations and frustrations and the strong political passions then, and seeing them at work in the play. He saw the election result as beginning to give voice to what lay behind those frustrations, but unsure of the leadership that would focus and give megaphone to that voice.
And yes, friends, there is more!
♦ On Monday Jan 28 – in conjunction with International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the arrival of two different delegations from Italy to DC to partake in remembrance activities at the Italian Embassy and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum: A Pre-Reading Presentation on The Thread of Memory: Projects and Experiences on Holocaust Remembrance in Saluzzo and the Provinces of Cuneo in the Ann Loeb Bronfman Gallery
♦ followed by the reading: “Inventing the Enemy: 1938” (1938 l’Invenzione del Nemico)
Presented by Theater J and SMATCH (Scientific Methodologies Applied To Cultural Heritage)
Originally written by Tonino Tosto, Translated and Adapted by Nello De Blasio and Edward Gero. A complete and total hats off to Ed for pulling off this heroic labor of love. Here’s a bit of background on the project:
“1938 The Invention of the Enemy” is the title of a book (1938 l’Invenzione del Nemico) by Dr. Tonino Tosto, Vice President of the Popular University of Rome (UPTER) and Director of theatrical company Gruppo Teatro Essere (GTE). Dr. Tosto’s book analyzes the background to the Laws, the propaganda tools used to publicize and popularize them and, based on oral histories collected from survivors, their human consequences. From this he has distilled a theatrical dramatization, keyed to actual events in the life of noted Jewish-Italian actor Arnoldo Foa’ (who has read the script and enthusiastically approved it). Like the Diary of Anne Frank, Dr. Tosto’s 1938 The Invention of the Enemy deals with a monstrous political perversion of incomprehensible enormity presented in terms of its routine and absurd consequences on the daily life of a single person. (Although unlike Diary, in this case the single person survived.)
The Foa’ role is performed on stage by Gero, the giant DC area Shakespearean actor who met Dr. Tosto when the latter presented 1938 l’Invenzione del Nemico at the University of Maryland-College Park in November 2008. To overcome the language barrier – and to aid in addressing the overriding “why” of the Racial Laws – the play takes the form of a contemporary televised US interview with the aged Italian actor who, both through direct comment and flashbacks, relives experiences of his youth. The play’s cast involves a half-dozen actors from Italy plus an equal number of bilingual American student actors recruited locally by Mr. Gero (who teaches theater at George Mason University).
About 100 audience members enjoyed the play, the music, the videos, the singing, and for a special treat, a recitation of a stirring scene from the original performed in Italian by the author and his co-star!
♦ Finally, Tuesday, January 29 sees the reading at Georgetown of “Ulysses on Bottles” by Gilad Evron (see our earlier post for comments)
♦ And there’s more a coming: January 31 Thursday at 9:30 pm
New Israel Fund Post Show Panel Discussion: Environmental Justice
• Moderated by Noam Shelef, Director of Digital Strategy at New Israel Fund
• Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb, Rabbi of Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation
• Stephanie Firestone, Environmental consultant
• Rabbi Lawrence Troster, Rabbinic Director at J Street and one of the leading Jewish eco-theologians and religious environmental activists