From Tel Aviv To Ramallah was a production I attended, spontaneously and alone, on a rainy Monday night in Manhattan, late 2005. As many theatre patrons know, Mondays are the day of the week when many theaters are dark (no performance.) But sometimes, these are the best opportunities to catch the magic of live theatre. And here’s how I managed to catch this one particular night which resonates more and more with each passing year.
Here in New York City, a smorgasbord awaits the avid theater-goer. Even if you are on a budget (students or starving, Bohemian artists; or cash-poor adventurers, like me,) folks have ways of getting tickets. The catch is, most discounts demand the person be ready to go the day-of the performance.
Well, there’s a reason why I love seeing theatre, at the last minute, with no expectations. To elaborate, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict inspired a number New Plays Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway in 2005 and I found myself trying to attend as many as possible. A handful of these plays challenged perceptions, offered insight, a human story, all those things that made other productions worth the risk. To bluntly put it: if I allowed the synopses and especially, the critical reviews, to pick and choose which productions I saw then, I’d have missed the best one.
The habits for overtly political theatre may be a time honored tradition in theatre history but what is it more akin to in the 21st Century? What politics are we addressing and how?
Every time we sit down for a performance arts piece, centered around modern day conflicts and cultural-politico-socio-ideologies, we risk exposing ourselves to the moribundity of Populist Theatre. (Not just theatrical mediums but all media and its audiences are more easily are mistaking political for populist propaganda.) A bad-habit we are all forming, because it is becoming all to “normal.”
That is, to employ mechanisms like “definitive archetypes,” portraying only selective pieces of information, building upon one opinion, one perception of a war, stereotyping each of the cultures involved. Pounding cheap, theoretical conjecture into an audience already over-saturated in Op/Ed news and information.
In the case of certain productions about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and also, the War On Terror, the human experience serves only to cater for the intent of Populism. To add emotional impact, ignite the zeitgeist, am I correct?
A reflection of the humanist struggle when the forces of Political or Cultural Movements subsume a person’s existence?
See, this is why I like walking into a production, understanding the risk, not knowing much about it, and hoping for a jewel.
As part of the Out Loud: New Play Reading Series at Ars Nova in 2005, the show From Tel Aviv To Ramallah performed for only that one night. And for those 75 minutes or so… Man, I wish I could bring Yuri Lane and his solo production here, today, for people to see. I think its message is more important than ever.
At a small but inviting performance venue on 54th, between 10th and 11th Avenue, I took my seat among the small audience. Two young men, maybe 16 years old, were sitting in front of me, excited to see their favorite beatbox performer and drinking Red Bull. They came in from Connecticut. They were not expecting a powerful piece of theatre and neither was I.
Yuri Lane avoided all the aforementioned pitfalls for the Political and Populist Theatre productions. He did it simply. With minimal design, he told us a story. Using his skills with beatbox, language, rhythm, gesture; using three light cues to distinguish SR, SL and Center; finally inverted pictures, multimedia projected on the backdrop, he set the scene for a fable about one young man from Tel Aviv and one young man from Ramallah.
Instead of showing us who was wrong and who was right, he told us of Amir and of Khalid. The idea that dreams and ideals of youth exist in separate microcosms outside the larger reality of (the Israeli-Palestinian) conflict set the story in motion. We learn about two different, but also similar people, whose goals are not unlike yours or mine. One wants to be a DJ. One wants to own an Internet Cafe. They share the threat of attacks. And their journey shows how a gradual diffusion of the greater reality into each microcosm, negates the youthful idealism for a future independent of violence and injustice. Both have their dreams compromised. Both must transition from adolescent to adulthood. Both must face each other in the end and the choices they make, leading them to the final moment of the play. A vision of peace comes down to two young men, who make one choice. Peace, perhaps, may not be realized by Treaties or United Nations intervening, or a great leader’s solution, but perhaps, it begins with a choice. An understanding.
And the audience is left without any clear answer about who is right, who is wrong and why one side is bad versus the other. Why would we presume an understanding? How to solve the permutations of a conflict, as deep and complicated as the Israeli-Palestinian hostilities?
Is our civilization so solid that you do not fear to shake the pillars on which it rests? Can you not see that all falls in upon you if one column be shattered? Could you not have learned if not to love one another, at least to tolerate the great virtues and the great vices of each other? Was it not your duty to attempt –you have never attempted it in sincerity– to settle amicably the questions which divided you, the problem of peoples annexed against their will, the equitable division of productive labor and the riches of the world? Must the stronger forever darken the others with the shadow of his pride, and the others forever unite to dissipate it? Is there no end to this bloody and puerile sport, in which the partners change about from century to century– no end, until the whole of humanity is exhausted thereby?
ROMAIN ROLLAND, “Above The Battle,”
Journal de Geneve_, September 15, 1914.