The Playgoer: Public's "Arab/Israeli Festival"

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Public's "Arab/Israeli Festival"

Back in the summer, at a Summer Play Festival panel discussion, Oskar Eustis announced that to piggyback on, or complement, the commercial production of My Name is Rachel Corrie he was going to present at the Public a series of readings of other new plays dealing with the Middle East and other hot political issues. Well, the "Arab/Israeli Festival" is here, and Kate Taylor wrote it up in Friday's Sun.

Its timing is not coincidental. As the Public's artistic director, Oskar Eustis, explained in an interview, he decided to organize the festival, part of the Public's New Work Now! series, as a direct response to the debate surrounding "Rachel Corrie."

"It was clear, when ‘Rachel Corrie' was postponed and the tempest erupted around it, that there was a combination of silence and ignorance about the issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the American theater. And I thought it was frankly embarrassing," Mr. Eustis said.


But lest anyone fear Eustis is throwing in his hat with those "shrill" bloggers...
While others speculated about the reasons for NYTW artistic director James Nicola's decision to postpone the play, Mr. Eustis preferred to take positive action. "I thought, rather than get into the sort of ridiculous mudslinging," he said,"let's try and actually talk about this in the theater and see what happens."

I'd like to think bloggers would also liked to have talked about this, in a theatre. If we had a theatre, that is. Since we didn't, I guess we should have just piped down and let the grownups talk.

Most interesting about the festival is Eustis' invitation to NYTW to effectively collaborate on the festival, providing them with a few slots along with other companies. (NYTW is using the slots to collaborate with the Arab-American company Nibras.) In his careful balancing act, though, Eustis continues to make clear his disagreement with Jim Nicola:
Mr. Eustis also invited other artistic directors, including Mr. Nicola, to participate in the festival. Saying he believes Mr. Nicola made a mistake in canceling the play –– "and I wish he'd just apologize and get it over with" ––Mr. Eustis said it also "would have been a tragedy if, as a result of this, Jim had gotten ostracized."

Taylor even gets Nicola to comment just one more time on the whole mess:
(Asked in an interview if he saw the festival as a way to redeem himself after the public relations disaster of the "Rachel Corrie" cancellation, Mr. Nicola said, "No, I wouldn't look at it that way.")

Anyway, it's an interesting line-up of plays, so check it out. Of particular note are two dissident Israeli plays whose titles I recognize: Joshua Sobol's iWitness and Motte Lerner's The Murder of Isaac. Since most of these will probably never be produced in New York, this may be your only chance to see up front political theatre on these issues.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Eustis should get credit for doing all the right things here, and for calling on Nicola to "just apologize and get it over with."

But it's unfortunate that he can't resist characterizing the anti-Nicola side of the MNiRC debate as "ridiculous mudslinging."

It may be a smart move, politically, for Eustis to try to position himself above the debate (while simultaneously telegraphing that he's on the right side of the issue). But it's not exactly courageous. And it cheapens the discussion.

The bottom line is this: Nicola made a mess. Some people called him out on it.

If Eustis believes that Nicola's critics engaged involved in "ridiculous mudslinging" I wish he'd point to particular examples.