Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Jewish Theater and Israel

As I work on the Festival of Jewish Theater and Ideas, I have been struggling to define Israel's role in it.  It looms over the festival in more ways than I would have thought, as my intention is not to do a festival about Israel or Israeli theater.  But as I work, I find the question has come up multiple times.

It has come up in small ways, at times.  People asking, does this festival have a political agenda, by which they mean an agenda about Israel.  It does not, I assure them.  I rarely speak about my own convictions about Israel, partly because they are complex, partly because I feel convinced that hard-liners on all sides would be offended by aspects of what I think.  But mostly because I don't want to make people feel that my own political agenda is going to infuse this festival.

But of course, it is.  It is inescapable.  I am not excluding Israeli artists, which is a political statement.  I am also not interested in excluding critical points of view about Israel, which is another political statement.  I think good art is good art, as long as it is honest, and of course that's another political point of view.

I must admit that I am worried - there is little in the festival that is truly critical of Israel.  Yet there are things that are celebratory of Israel - a cabaret about Tel Aviv before Israel was formed, which despite being pre-Israel and neutral politically, is still, by implication of celebrating the city, pro-Israel.  A play about the raid in Entebbe.

I may have a reading of a play more critical of Israel.  But I am sad that I was unable to find a full production with that point of view.  The Jewish community includes a multiplicity of voices, and since Israel is such a major issue, I would like to include all the points of view.  There is a very mistaken impression among some non-Jews that a Jewish theater festival will, by definition, endorse every Israeli political position, which is of course false.

One of the Israelis involved is Motti Lerner, a well known Israeli playwright who play, Hard Love, will be produced by a theater company called Genesis, from Atlanta Georgia.  Motti's play is set in Israel, but unlike many of his other plays, it is not about Israeli politics.  It is about a romance between someone from the ultra-orthodox community and an atheist.  I am excited to have Moti involved - his plays have been produced around the country, but this will be his first fully staged production in New York.

The possible reading would be of one of Motti's more politically charged plays, Pangs of the Messiah.  It is set in the future, in the West Bank settlements, at a time when Israel has decided to withdraw from the West Bank.  The settlers, of course, resist.  It is a both highly critical and simultaneously empathetic piece.

Of course, Israeli playwrights are often critical of Israeli policy.  Like most artists, they tend to speak from the left.  Motti wrote an interesting essay on Israeli theater and politics, which I recommend.

The Israeli consulate may help bring him here for the festival.  Of course, that has a small political implication as well...

I have more to say about this, and possibly about Caryl Churhill's Seven Jewish Children, which I have written about on other blogs.  I will return to it..


YMedad said...

But why are most from the left? Are only leftists artists? Is the left the only atmosphere which supports critical plays, etc.?

Theater of Ideas said...

Well I think that gets into the question of why most political theater is liberal, wherever you are(which I actually blogged about a while ago)

Kasheri said...

Your next festival should be on Puppy Theater. Are puppies political?