PlayMakers Repertory Company will ring in the New Year on Jan. 7-11 with the regional premiere of Wrestling Jerusalem, written and performed by Aaron Davidman and directed by Michael John Garcés, in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Set in the United States, Israel, and Palestine, this one-man show is Davidman’s attempt to explore the competing narratives of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A freewheeling audience talkback with the artists and subject-matter experts will follow each performance of this provocative PRC2 production of UNC’s professional-theater-in-residence.
Wrestling Jerusalem premiered on March 12, 2014 at the Intersection for the Arts in San Francisco, where it ran through April 6th. When the curtain rises, says playwright/performer Aaron Davidman, “One man travels to Israel and Palestine to try to understand the nuance and complexity that lives in the hearts of the human beings at the center of the conflict. [The play is p]art personal memoir, part transformational theater[. I]n addition to myself, I play 17 different characters whom I meet along the way, each with their own story and perspective to share.”
“There’s a sinuous, yearning beauty in Aaron Davidman’s segue from a Hebrew song to a Muslim prayer,” observed San Francisco Chronicle theater critic Robert Hurwitt in his March 18th review. He called Davidman’s solo performance “remarkable ” and added, “Deep sadness and wistful hope emanate from his portraits of Israelis and Palestinians in Wrestling Jerusalem ….”
PlayMakers Rep producing artistic director Joseph Haj, who played Palestinian human rights attorney Raja Shehadeh in the company’s Sept. 12-16, 2007 PRC2 presentation of When the Bulbul Stopped Singing, which was based on Shehadeh’s diaries of Ramallah under siege, said in the news release announcing this show, “Now, especially given recent events in Gaza, it is important to once again look at this area of the world, this time through the lens of a Jewish artist/activist. I have known Aaron Davidman for many years, and his deep-thinking, honest attempt to understand the situation gives another voice and perspective to one of the world’s thorniest issues.
Haj added, “As with Roger Guenveur Smith’s Rodney King, which we presented in September, only a few weeks after the events in Ferguson, MO, it is my hope that the theater can be a place for community dialogue, increased tolerance, and healing — a safe environment in which to have difficult conversations.”
Aaron Davidman plays 18 different Israeli and Palestinian characters in his new one-man show, “Wrestling Jerusalem” (photos by Ken Friedman)
Aaron Davidman says, “The play was commissioned by Ari Roth, artistic director of Theatre J in Washington, DC for their ‘Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival.’ I’ve been to Israel/Palestine many times over the years for my own personal inquiry as well as research for other plays I’ve written about the topic. It feels to me that the Israeli/Palestinian story is the most important story for Jews to understand; and as an American Jewish theater artist, I felt compelled to go deeply into the material to see how I could make sense of this very troubling and often confusing conflict.
“I was inspired to reach beyond the headlines, beyond polemic, and understand the complexity and nuance, the history and current events, the mythology and the real politik of the ‘situation’ as they call it in Israel,” Davidman explains.
He says, “I’ve worked on the script for years. It was commissioned in 2007, and did not premiere until … Spring 2014 …. During the development process, I did public readings all over the country, with post-performance conversations every time.
“I gleaned an enormous amount of insight about the piece from my audiences and continued to write and rewrite and hone the piece throughout. In addition, I did a major rewrite this past summer after the terrible war in Gaza; and the play returned to Intersection for the Arts in October for another run, where I was able to bring in the new material and prepare for this tour,” says Davidman.
Aaron Davidman says, “These changes were less about audience or critical response than about the changing tone in the region. I don’t rewrite the play to speak to current events; but rather, I have to be sure that the tone of the piece remains connected to where our world is — in my subjective opinion, of course — in relation to this continually evolving conflict. Playmakers Rep is the first stop on our national tour, which will include Los Angeles, Boston, and New York City. More bookings are pending.”
In addition to playwright/performer Aaron Davidman and director Michael John Garcés, the PlayMakers Repertory Company creative team for Wrestling Jerusalem includes PRC producing artistic director Joseph Haj, PlayMakers production manager Michael Rolleri, choreographer Stacey Printz, technical director and stage manager Wolfgang Wacholovsky, scenic and costume designer Nephelie Andonyadis, lighting designer Allen Willner, and sound designer Bruno Louchouarn. (The show features original music by Louchouarn.)
The set of Wrestling Jerusalem is simple; the play unfolds against a wrinkled canvas backdrop. But, Aaron Davidman says, “The lighting shapes each moment, helping transform the space both in terms of physicality and mood, as there is no realistic set or props.”
The show’s costumes are also simple. “There is one outfit and no costume changes,” says Davidman. “The physicality and vocal inflection delineate character differences.
“I would add that sound design is paramount to this production,” he says, “creating an audio landscape, sometimes of realistic sounds of place, other times more ethereal for mood or emotional or spiritual tone.”
Aaron Davidman says, “A solo performance is, by default, profoundly challenging. The mental focus and concentration that is demanded of me is profound. And the physical endurance of this particular piece — 90 minutes without pause — is very challenging. But it is the topic itself that has been the most challenge to wrestle with, so to speak.”
Davidman claims, “Polemic rules the airwaves in our culture, not just about Israel and Palestine. And I wanted to be sure to write a play that captured the multifaceted nature of life and in Israel and Palestine, specifically about the conflict.
“My director Michael John Garcés and I worked very closely together — he was a wonderful dramaturg — and he helped find the performative modes that keep the piece moving and very theatrical. Personal storytelling and first-person character portrayal, moving back and forth between the two can be difficult to sustain with continuing compelling theatricality. I think Michael did a beautiful job. The lighting and sound design work together to create the different spaces that I travel in and inhabit,” says Aaron Davidman.
He adds, “I hope my audiences come with an open heart. People are very divisive about this issue, understandably. I think we are capable of holding vast complexity and even contradiction. I think we are more connected to our own humanity when we are generous with each other, when we remain curious about the ‘other.'”
SECOND OPINION: 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.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents WRESTLING JERUSALEM, written and performed by Aaron Davidman, 7:30 p.m. Jan. 7-10 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), email@example.com, 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).
Robert W. McDowell has written articles for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, CVNC, and Triangle Arts and Entertainment, all based in Raleigh. He edits and publishes two FREE weekly e-mail newsletters. Triangle Review provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of local performing-arts events. (Start your FREE subscription by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and typing SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) McDowell also maintains a FREE list of movie sneak previews. (To subscribe, e-mail email@example.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.)