Albert Camus issued a warning to artists when he won the Nobel Prize in literature: "To create today is to create dangerously. Any publication is an act, and that act exposes one to the passions of an age that forgives nothing."
In 2014, that admonition especially applied to artists who dared to consider the conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Groups who branded John Adams' 1991 opera The Death of Klinghoffer anti-Semitic agitated to make the Metropolitan Opera cancel its fall production, convincing the company to scrub planned global movie theater and radio simulcasts. Later, demonstrations in front of Lincoln Center disrupted October performances.
And last month, the theater world erupted when the Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival at Washington's Theater J was canceled and Artistic Director Ari Roth was dismissed. In a story still unfolding, playwrights including Angels in America's Tony Kushner have protested, and leaders from more than 90 theaters nationwide have signed a petition claiming that Roth was terminated "for blatantly political reasons, violat[ing] the principles of artistic freedom and free expression." But the D.C. Jewish Community Center holds that Roth was fired for insubordination, not censorship. Hear his side when he visits Playmakers for a post-show discussion Jan. 8.
Such conflicts stem from what playwright Aaron Davidman, who is preparing to stage WRESTLING JERUSALEM at PRC2, calls "the politics of who is permitted to tell the narrative of the Middle East publicly."
"I'm interested in the way competing narratives in scripture, politics, current events and history vie for attention," he continues, "and how this narrative battle plays itself out on the ground."
They also signify how troubled the waters are that Davidman steps into with this one-person show based on travels in Israel, the Palestinian territories and the U.S. The 16 characters in the script, drawn from interviews with more than 100 people, evoke the work of Anna Deavere Smith. As the 17th character, Davidman evokes Spalding Gray in his attempts to navigate the contrasting views.
"The American population has a cursory understanding of what's going on over there, and yet we're very, very involved," Davidman explains. "I wanted to track my journeys, in order to allow people to go on the journey with me."
Several years ago, a diplomat with the Camp David peace accords told Davidman that, in order for leaders to make peace, they have to be willing to walk down a road together without seeing where it's headed. "That's so hard for politicians and intellectuals," he says, "but artists do it all the time. Perhaps that's my role, to remind us of a human capacity we need to exercise more: admitting what we don't know. Knowing everything—where has that gotten us? A circling cycle of blame. I don't know everything. I walk into these places, and I inquire about them."
He discovers there a neurologist who wrestles with the chances for peace between two societies now riddled with PTSD. An Israeli Special Forces commander wrestles with the moral dilemma of his service. A Palestinian U.N. worker wrestles with despair, while a refugee in Hebron wrestles with his daily existence. And Davidman, an American Jew, walks among these worlds, wrestling with the conflicting truths he finds.
It feels to me like having way too many tabs open on your computer."
Emily Anderson is describing Caryl Churchill's bizarre 2012 play, LOVE AND INFORMATION, which The Delta Boys stage this weekend at The Carrack. Those who've seen the playwright's earlier works, including A Number and Far Away, already know she has a penchant for reducing scenes and stories to their essentials. The current work takes that even further; in more than 65 brief, elliptical scenes, characters construct a jagged, broken, 3-D schematic of the information age.
"It's constant stimulation and constant disconnect," says company member Skylar Gudasz. "The scenes simulate the constant flow of information through our lives, our computers and the Internet. In this world, we have to figure out what our filter is—what's important."
Churchill's characters include a religious devotee and a skeptic, lovers both prospective and long-term, intelligence operatives sharing a cigarette amid enhanced interrogation tactics, and a biologist researching memory in waterfowl. These theatrical pop-up windows gradually form a mosaic of a society in which the dynamic of disclosure seems out of control.
"When we meet someone now, we have so much information on them, on Facebook and other places," says Gudasz. "It's not the slow unraveling of identity that used to be."
Anderson agrees: "We're open books. It's a performance and a disguise: 'Here's my book, it's open, read it.' But do I really want to read it? How will reading change the relationship, the other person, or me?"
All questions worth contemplating, as a cast of five, including Zach LeClair, Lucius Robinson and Caitlin Wells takes on Churchill's cryptic algorithms. Camus' warning against exposing passions to an unforgiving age takes on an acutely contemporary resonance here.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Love and rockets."