Thoughtful and illuminating, “Via Dolorosa” by highly respected British playwright David Hare, is one man’s journey to understand the underlying reasons for the centuries-old conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. It is both travelogue and monologue, chronicling the author’s trip to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Originally performed by the writer himself, this Southern California premiere features veteran actor David Bryan Jackson playing the part of The Author. The play is in essence a series of reenactments of interviews with people from the area such as important political figures, historians, poets and Jewish West Bank settlers. Characters, as brought to life by Jackson, are unapologetically opinionated and complex issues are laid out with remarkable clarity. Hare allows everyone their own point of view with nonjudgmental objectivity. But while the play has intelligence and keen observations on the human condition, it generally lacks the usual theater elements of dramatic build and literary artistry. Take in some Shakespeare for that.
The Author (i.e. Hare/Jackson) explains that being a reporter and the Christian husband of a Jewish woman has given him an “instinct to poke about” in the Jewish faith. He’s heard that Jews are highly emotional people. “In a single day,” he says, “a Jew experiences emotions and events which would keep a Swede going for a whole year.”
So he leaves Britain for Israel in 1997. After experiencing the cosmopolitan high-life of Tel Aviv and Jaffa, he convinces his reluctant travel guides to take him to Sheri Tikva, a settlement miles inside the borders of the Palestinian territory. Here he is hosted by an Orthodox Jewish couple, American ex-pats Sharon and Danny Weiss. They speak of the land being promised to them by the Lord and what it’s like to be surrounded by people who want to kill them.
Their interaction grows increasingly contentious. He moves on to Jerusalem where he interviews Benni Begin, Manachem Begin’s son, who more rationally explains “the pull of the land.” In Gaza, he is lucky enough to meet with Haider Abdel Sharif, a very popular Arab politician of the area, who reveals his aggravation with Yasser Arafat with surprising candor. The Author finds he is most comfortable in the comparatively liberal West Bank town of Ramallah, where he meets up with some humorously demonstrative and opinionated intellectuals.
Three events keep coming up in conversations: The Six-Day War of 1967, 1993’s Oslo Agreement and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. They are profound touch points on which it seems every Israeli and Palestinian has an opinion. And the basis for their perspective is usually rooted in faith.
The concept of faith brings us to the title of this play. Via Dolorosa (Latin for “Way of Sorrows” or “Trail of Tears”) is the name of the path through Jerusalem that Jesus walked from his trial to his crucifixion. The Author walks the Via Dolorosa, pondering the idea that Christianity, while no slouch on the world religion front, plays a distant third in this city of Muslims and Jews. He wonders about his own faith and whether there are sacred sites for him. He asks, “Are we where we live or what we think?” Later, upon his return to Britain, he is saddened by the relative lack of passion and vitality in this all-too-familiar land.
The set for Via Dolorosa is sparse, only a metal bar stool and a chair. The graceful lighting, by Johnny Resendiz, plays a starring role. The costuming is a pair of khaki pants and a button-down shirt. This is a play that is not meant to please the aesthetic nature or tickle the funny bone, but rather engage the intellect.
Lisa Dupuy is an Irish Catholic but traveled to Israel and the West Bank in 1983. She can be reached at LDupuy@aol.com.
What: “Via Dolorosa” by David Hare
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 and 7 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 7
Where: Missing Piece Theater, 2811 W. Magnolia Blvd., Burbank
Tickets: $25; students and seniors $20
Phone: (800) 838-3006; group sales (818) 867-8675