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Review: Performance piece ‘Wrestling Jerusalem’ doesn’t translate well to screen

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“Wrestling Jerusalem,” Aaron Davidman’s 2016 solo performance piece grappling with the ages-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, makes the pilgrimage from stage to screen emerging more as an intellectual discourse than a fully engaging cinematic experience.

Attempting to get to the heart of the deeply entrenched complexities surrounding the longstanding sociopolitical impasse, actor-writer Davidman presents the viewpoints of 17 characters — Jews, Muslims, soldiers, farmers, academics and himself among them — predominantly on a bare stage against a crumpled canvas backdrop.

“Statehood ain’t pretty,” shrugs one of the individuals Davidman encounters on his deeply personal journey.

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Davidman, strikingly bathed in warm hues of blue and gold, lacks the ability of a John Leguizamo (or Lily Tomlin or Anna Deavere Smith) to create meticulously dimensional, fully delineated characters. His provocative but hopeful line of questioning runs into bigger problems, though, in director Dylan Kussman’s resetting of the original Michael John Garcés staging — an effort to breathe air into the off-Broadway piece by relocating fragments of performance to the middle of the Negev.

Rather than pulling the viewer in, all the inter-cutting between the barren stage and the barren desert ultimately has a distancing, artificial effect that waters down much of the dramatic potency generated by the shared experience of a live performance.

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‘Wrestling Jerusalem’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes

Playing: Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills

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