Sunday, May 08, 2016

Insightful, thought stimulating WRESTLING JERUSALEM captivates at CPT

Shortly into WRESTLING JERUSALEM, Aaron Davidman’s self-written and performed one-man play, now on stage at the newly remodeled James Levin Theatre at Cleveland Public Theatre, Davidman tells a joke.  A joke which is, in actuality, not funny, but very sad and prophetic.

A Rabbi and a bartender are having a conversation.  The bartender says, “Rabbi, where’ve you been this morning?”  The Rabbi replies, “Where I go every morning.  To pray at the Western Wall.”  The bartender asks, “How long have you been praying in the morning at the Wall?”  The response, “Every day for forty years.”  The next question, “Rabbi, what do you pray for every day for forty years?”  The reply, “I pray that there should be peace between the Jews and the Arabs.  That all the fighting should stop.  And that our children should grow up in safety and friendship.”  The bartender states, “Rabbi, I’m impressed by your dedication and commitment, but I have to ask, after 40 years of these prayers, how do you feel?”  The response:  “How do I feel?  I feel like I’m talking to a fucking wall!”

Yes, after forty years of attempted negotiations, cease fires, rocket attacks, army curfews, building a wall, thwarted peace talks, arrests, rock throwing, prisoner exchanges, and the giving of land for peace, there is no peace in Israel/Palestine.   And, to make it worse, there is seemingly no chance or any hope that “our children will grow up in safety and friendship.”

Both sides are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The Jews, many who suffered the horrors of concentration camps and displacement, who finally came to “the land of milk and honey,” only to be involved in a conflict when the United Nations voted for the establishment of the State of Israel and the Arab nations attacked, are still involved in stress and possible death, and their children, who, never having lived in a time of peace, are shell shocked.   This is no way to live!

The Arabs were displaced from what they consider their “homes” and basically ignored by most of their brethren in the Arab world.  They, too, have known no peace and live with frustration, constant surveillance, and the lack of ability to govern themselves.  This is no way to live!

Throughout WRESTLING JERUSALEM, Davidman, who plays 17 parts, males and females, Jews and Palestinians, Americans and Brits, probes into the causes confronted in hammering out a lasting peace, or at least acceptance of one for another.

Performed before an abstract painted backdrop, textures suggesting the layered landscape of the Middle East, accented by golden sunlight, blood red slashes of light, storm clouds and a few moments of quiet calm, the bare stage takes on various places and fields of feeling. 

The use of music and light help designate who is speaking, and spans time and space.  Vocal inflections and accents, dialect and language, dance and song all incorporate to create a tableau of meaning, challenges, conflicts, and people.

A social science principle states that, “we are the sum total of our cultures.”  Our cultures—nationality, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and race, all form the tableau of each of us.  The us of us. 

Throughout WRESTLING JERUSALEM, Davidman highlights how our similarities and difference create the tapestry of our “us.”  And the “us,” in Israel/Palestine, leads to stress, disagreement, perceptual differences and conflict!

Sadly, the play is built on divisiveness and though it sheds light on the issues, it cannot give us a solution to the “tzuras,” the pain and suffering, that is caused by the cultural differences between the Israeli Jews and the Palestinian Muslims.  And, for this, the whole world suffers.

Davidman is brilliant in his portrayals.  He prays, sings, dances, mimes and creates real beings.  Unfortunately, at times, he gets so conversationally quiet and turns his back to the audience, that he can’t be heard by those in the rear of the theatre.

Aaron Davidman is touring the country doing WRESTLING JERUSALEM.  According to the program notes, he will possibly be making additional presentations in the Cleveland area.  It might be suggested, if that happens, that following the production, a short panel discussion, featuring both Jewish and Palestinian participants, be assembled to discuss the play and its implications.

Capsule judgement: Raymond Bobgan, the Executive Artistic Director of CPT states in his program notes, “Here at CPT, we truly believe art has a role to play in raising consciousness and nurturing compassion, in reckoning with some of the most challenging, personal and complex issues of our time.”  His selection of WRESTLING JERUSALEM, a thought-provoking, well written, compelling and well-performed piece of theater fulfills his beliefs.  This is a must see experience for people, no matter their cultural backgrounds.

WRESTLING JERUSALEM runs through May 22, 2016 at Cleveland Public Theatre Thu/Fri/Sat/Mon @ 7pm,  Sun @3.  (The show runs 90 minutes without an intermission.)  For tickets call 216-631-2727 or go on line to