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Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Break the Walls


6/6

The Wall



So what can I do? is a question artists often ask themselves related to the difficult social issues of our time. Especially with a seemingly intractable issue like the Israel-Palestine conflict, or more appropriately, the struggle of the Palestinian people for justice. Last night at the Lark Theatre Center in New York, the Break the Wall Theatre Project provided one valuable answer to that question. 

Inspired by the controversy around Caryl Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_Jewish_Children), and Churchill’s making the play available for free for performance by anyone (you can read the whole text here: https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2009/feb/26/caryl-churchill-seven-jewish-children-play-gaza), Ismail Khalidi and David Zellnik have conceived and produced their own project, Break the Wall.

Conceptually, BTW refers both to the wall of separation built by Israel but also the fourth wall between stage and audience. BTW  intends to break through these walls. 

It’s first stage, celebrated by the launch, invited a variety of playwrights to write short plays on the struggle. All the resulting plays will be made available in an online archive for any who would like to perform them. The goal is to gather 50 plays within a year.

The plays presented Monday night were illustrative of the values that drive the project. There were common threads that run through all the plays. Among these is  the importance of approaching the issue through interpersonal relationships. Each play  (with one exception, Yussef El Guindi’s the Monologuist), is essentially a painful conversation about the issue between people who care about each other. The plays suggest that it is in the intensity of these conversations, as opposed to dialectical debate, that some understanding might come. 

That of course, is another recurring theme. The ongoing struggle of Palestinians to even be heard, let alone understood, even by people who are emotionally involved with each other at one level or another flowed through the plays.

Perhaps most importantly, the plays demand that we give up a balanced view. That in a situation with such an overwhelming imbalance of power …military, economic and political….a balanced view is morally untenable. It is to the credit of these artists that this point is made through the art, not through didactic moralism. You understand by being drawn into the relationships. 

While all the plays are of comparable quality, I went because of a long relationship with playwright Stan Richardson (co-founder of the Representatives .. http://therepresentatives.org/). Several of Stan’s plays have been produced at West Park, including the recent Edinburgh Fringe festival bound production of Private Manning goes to Washington.) Stan’s contribution, the Montagues, uses his typical command of relational conversation and the connections and gaps between us ending in his two characters’ passionate plea for help. In other words, exactly where we are. And  he doesn’t tell us what help means. We’ve got to figure that out. 

(It was also good to see longtime West Park friend Lynne Marie Rosenberg in several plays. She was a key cast member of the Woodshed Collective’s ground breaking immersive production of the Tenant that helped reopen West Park. http://www.woodshedcollective.com/the-tenant/)

Thanks to BTW for this demonstration of what artists can do in the struggle for justice while staying true to their art. The plays are there to read…and perform…in the theatre, in homes, in church, in the street…

For information about Break the Wall...and scripts...go to http://www.breakthewallproject.org/



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