Report from Jaffa Reading of “The Admission” From a Council Member

Theater J Council member Stephen Stern attended the November 1st reading of “The Admission” in Jaffa together with his daughter, along with Theater J Council member Kenneth Krupsky and his wife, Amy. It was such a statement of connection and support with this project to see these Washingtonians make the trek to Israel to show their solidarity with the play and the workshopping process. Here’s Stephen Stern’s report:

The Setting:
We entered with the sea and the winds behind us, through the open door of the Arab Hebrew Theater of Jaffa.

Stephen Stern and Ken Krupsky and their families in the lobby

Stephen Stern and Ken Krupsky and their families in the lobby

We were Israelis from the world of theater and theater lovers; social and public policy professionals, journalists and historians; and Ari, two Theater J Council members, family and friends. We came to experience and respond to this latest round of workshop development of The Admission by Motti Lerner, directed by Sinai Peter.

From the Hebrew Reading:
I watched, listened and noted (my Hebrew limited to catching fragments) tracking through the September version of the English script on my IPad.

Stephen Stern with his iPad following along with the script in English.

Stephen Stern with his iPad following along with the script in English.

What struck me hearing it in Hebrew, performed by Jewish and Palestinian Israeli professionals (several brilliant interpretations) is how the entanglements of the personal and “family historical” are what most deeply propel the action. We see in the first scene, father and son – and a sister – at subtly developing loggerheads. The scene ends with sudden action that cuts to the core of what will be the enveloping questions — what happened in Tantur in 1948, and what to do with those memories.

Cameri Theatre artistic director Omri Nitzan in attendance before the Standing Room Only crowd was fully assembled.

Cameri Theatre artistic director Omri Nitzan in attendance before the Standing Room Only crowd was fully assembled.

The Palestinian and Jewish families each play out their deepening and inter-connected dread, as we move from household to household, each trying to find harmony and deal with elusive truth and evasions. All is propelled by protaganist Giora’s personal quest, his compulsive need to understand what has happened to him in war and peace, what he has lost. It is his fate and the fate of everyone in the play that are the dramatic stakes of this roller-coaster exploration of core historical inquiries that stir somewhere, I believe, in every Israeli and Palestinian.

Commenting on this play yet again in these 4 years of development, and encountering it this time in Hebrew among Israelis — I am more convinced than ever of a brilliant tragedy in the making. Yet, within that tragedy, it keeps alive hopes of a way forward to reckoning and reconciliation through the passionately depicted humanity of its characters.

Azmi, Ibrahim, and Samya (the Palestinian family members) in a scene from "The Admission"

Azmi, Ibrahim, and Samya (the Palestinian family members standing) join Avigdor and Giora (seated at table) in a scene from “The Admission”

This drama of families, of intricately ensnared living human creatures — profoundly distanced from each other – has them desperately loving, even when they confront with rage. Furthermore I am certain this story of striving flawed humanity in a conflicted land should open a profound conversation in Washington, as it did in Israel, about the human legacies of conflict and war for all peoples. To be sure: distortions, vilification and lies cannot stop that conversation.

The Talkback:
Aided by daughter Sarah’s selected translations of what was in Hebrew, I was moved by how deeply this Israeli audience had been stirred and shaken by the furies and the fate of the characters, and by the historical inquiry that inspired the playwright. b & w pic from panelSinai put a down a clear director’s marker, that the realization of the play’s potential lies not in what did or did not happen in Tantura — or even in the fictionalized Tantur. It’s about these two entangled families, and the emptiness and denial that are the deepest personal obstacles in their lives.

Our guest panelists did touch on memory and historical denial, the asymmetries between Jews and Arabs on the land and the difficulty of writing on such disputed matters. Yair Oron, a Holocaust historian brought up educational controversies about naqba and historical responsibility in war. He said what he saw on-stage was his story — but he didn’t know it until those controversies led him to look carefully into the tangled history of 1948.

Ari outlined how we were proceeding with our Festival in Washington, and asked the audience for responses (in English if possible) on whether performing the play in DC was dangerous, destructive, cathartic, or constructive. A wonderfully engaged debate was started by an Israeli woman who said, though she was respectful of the work –that it was dangerous. An uninformed American audience would take this as the Israeli whole. Quickly she was countered, by a young Israeli born in America to two Israeli parents. He was tired of the argument that such courageous explorations of truth are delegitimizing. For peoples’ stuck in such a debilitating status quo, not to explore these realities is dangerous. An Israeli woman called it not cathartic, but complicated in a way that sat heavier and heavier in her belly as she experienced it. She said we must not placate with the superficial. We must go this painfully deep to find the reconciliation she expressed as her galvanizing desire. A human rights lawyer identified himself. He had been Israeli for 40 years, was born and raised in the States and speaks often in US to synagogues and other Jewish groups. He said that Israelis will see this, have denial shaken by seeing it, and will be discomforted – perhaps usefully by the art. But so many Jewish Americans – who should see this – have been so manipulated as to what can and can’t be thought of as truth — they will be shattered. He said for them it’s not denial, because they have not been given the means to know. He charged us to take this to the American Jewish community with empathy and respect towards these “good people’s” Israel connection and strong feeling.

One last note on the discussion — both in and ultimately outside of the theater. We had told the story of our determination to see it through in Washington. Now our Israeli friends were moved to call it their task, with our continuing involvement, to see it performed in Israel. I say “speedily and in our day.” Our coming workshop presentations will be a strong link in this chain of cultural connection and concern. I hope that Motti and Ari will have more to report on in coming weeks. I am inspired that now the real conversation has begun.