PlayMakers Repertory Company’s second-stage series, ” PRC2,” strives to produce theatrical works that are reflections of current events, opening the doors to conversations within communities. Their current offering, Aaron Davidman’s Wrestling Jerusalem, is a meditation on the Israeli and Palestinian conflict.
Davidman wrote and stars in the piece, which is a cobbled-together collection of stories, monologues, and dialogues from his visit to the region. Davidman’s mundane script and monotonous, though energetic, performance is lifted due in part to deft direction by Michael John Garcés, and support from strong, striking technical elements.
Aaron Davidman’s story is of his travels as a younger man. His monologue explores the everyday civilians and their reactions and reflections on the wars of the country. Being one man’s journey, it is so impacted and influenced by the many people whom he comes into contact with, that I wonder if the piece would benefit from weaving a second performer into the mix.
While I understand certain stories live well in a solo delivery, this particular script has significant chunks of dialogue. While Davidman clearly worked hard to delineate characters and keep the conversation clear, it inevitably becomes muddy. The dialogues often led to heated exchanges, something that’s hard enough to land with two actors, but proved to just lead to extended periods of strained shouting from just one man.
It probably goes without saying that solo pieces are hard. I can speak from experience. You don’t have the standard support from fellow actors to have your back should you stumble; you rely on your own self and your relationship with your audience. It’s daunting work. When it pays off, it’s an exceptional experience. When it falls flat, it’s painful.
Aaron Davidman plays 18 different Israeli and Palestinian characters in his new one-man show, “Wrestling Jerusalem” (photos by Ken Friedman)
Aaron Davidman falls somewhere in the middle of this spectrum. He had energy to spare, no doubt; he painted landscapes with his words and was present in his body and in his space. But his opening-night performance on Jan. 7th lacked variation, the natural peaks and valleys that keep things interesting — and in turn, large parts of the piece became tiresome, lacking some of the punch I think Davidman was going for.
The strongest moment comes over an hour into the piece: a monologue from a Rabbi lamenting the current state of Judaism (and, in part, religion as a whole). It’s an emotionally powerful section that carries us through the denouement and sticks with us long after we leave the theater. It’s just unfortunate that the entire piece couldn’t do that.
Nephelie Andonyadis’ simple set, merely a painted backdrop/cyc, is highly effective. Lit by Allen Willner’s incredible design, Andonyadis’ drop changes and morphs into looks that I never thought it would or could. Together, it’s some of the strongest design work I’ve seen in the area in recent memory.
While I don’t necessarily recommend you drop everything and buy a ticket, I do think that if you are looking for a thought-provoking piece on relevant topics, presented in a new way, then Wrestling Jerusalem may be for you.
SECOND OPINION: Jan. 7th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Cliff Bellamy: http://www.heraldsun.com/chherald/x1351408207/A-nuanced-conflict-Play-looks-at-complexity-of-Israeli-Palestinian-conflict (Note: You must subscribe to read this article); Jan. 6th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by Paige Connelly: http://www.dailytarheel.com/article/2015/01/new-playmakers-production-wrestles-with-conflict; Jan. 6th Durham, NC Indy Week preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/new-theater-productions-take-on-the-israel-palestine-conflict-and-the-opaque-transparency-of-the-internet-age/Content?oid=4315240; Dec. 24th Durham, NC Five Points Star preview by Kate Dobbs Ariail: http://thefivepointsstar.com/2014/12/24/next-year-in-the-theater/; March 18th San Francisco, CA San Francisco Chronicle review by Robert Hurwitt: http://www.sfgate.com/performance/article/Wrestling-Jerusalem-review-Solo-show-goes-to-5325202.php and March 13th preview by Robert Hurwitt: http://www.sfgate.com/performance/article/Wrestling-Jerusalem-Raft-of-narratives-on-5312001.php. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Jan. 6th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/01/aaron-davidmans-new-solo-wrestling-jerusalem-drills-to-the-core-of-the-israeli-palestinian-conflict/.)
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents WRESTLING JERUSALEM, written and performed by Aaron Davidman, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 8-10 and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Jan. 11 in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
TICKETS: $15 and up.
BOX OFFICE: 919-962-PLAY or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919-962-PLAY (7529), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.playmakersrep.org/tickets/groupsales.
UNC NEWS RELEASE: http://uncnews.unc.edu/2014/12/18/playmakers-continues-prc2-season-wrestling-jerusalem/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.aarondavidman.com/video.html.
PRESENTER: http://www.playmakersrep.org/, https://www.facebook.com/playmakersrep, https://twitter.com/playmakersrep, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayMakers_Repertory_Company, and https://www.youtube.com/user/PlayMakersRep.
PRC BLOG (Page to Stage): http://playmakersrep.blogspot.com/.
NOTE: An audience talkback with the artists and subject-matter experts will follow each performance.
Wrestling Jerusalem (2014 one-man-show): http://www.aarondavidman.com/wrestling-jerusalem.html (official web page) and https://www.facebook.com/wrestlingjerusalem (Facebook page).
Aaron Davidman (Berkeley, CA playwright/performer): http://www.aarondavidman.com/ (official website), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0203131/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/aaron.davidman (Facebook page), and https://twitter.com/aarondavidman (Twitter page).
Michael John Garcés (Los Angeles, CA director): http://cornerstonetheater.org/staff/ (Cornerstone Theater Company bio).
Jesse R. Gephart is a Raleigh, NC-based actor, director, and reviewer. A Gainesville, FL native, he earned a degree in Theatre Performance in 2005 from Appalachian State University in Boone, NC. To read more of Jesse Gephart’s reviews, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/jesse-r-gephart/. (Note: He is shown here in costume as David/Crumpet, cutting up (with actress Sandi Sullivan), in Theatre in the Park‘s hilarious December 2014 production of the hilarious one-man show, The SantaLand Diaries.)