The Playgoer: David Hare's "Wall"

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Monday, April 13, 2009

David Hare's "Wall"

Towards the end of my recent reflections upon Caryl Churchill's Seven Jewish Children I asked why it is that the only way we can address the Israeli/Palestinian conflict on the New York stage is by importing already-existing British plays to do it for us. (My Name is Rachel Corrie, of course, may have used the words of an American but was "edited"/conceived/directed by the team of Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner.)

Well right on cue, here comes David Hare! The Public just announced they will present (in a very short run) Hare's Berlin/Wall, a pair of two short docu-monologues. The first "wall" refers to post-wall Berlin; the second, the one now between Israel proper and the Palestinian West Bank. In a kind of sequel to Hare's 1999 Via Dolorosa, the playwright takes the stage himself to recount his return to Israel ten years later to find inhabitants on both side of the wall...guess what? Still divided!

Actually you can read most of the Wall monologue in the latest NY Review of Books. An interesting enough read. But it just begs the question--why will this play, itself plenty critical of Israel and plenty sympathetic with Palestinians, inevitably be less controversial than the Churchill and Rickman pieces?

Because unlike his London colleagues, Hare maximizes his status as objective observer. When we import the work of these secular Brit gentiles to teach us about Muslims vs Jews we like them to do that dignified British detachment thing they do oh so well. (And what we pay top dollar at the theatre for from Stoppard to Jeremy Irons.) So Hare will get away with a lot for being, well, British. Which will be only aided, of course, by his own professorial presence on stage, unlike Rickman speaking through the firebrand Corrie or, conversely, Churchill putting words in the mouth of her antagonist Israeli Jews.

It will be interesting to see if Hare's work is embraced as more theatrical and/or artistic for preferring a more objective posture. The old saw being that taking a political side leads to propaganda, not art. (As if propaganda can't be one artform and the leisurely theatre of concerned detachment another.)

But the question remains, why do we continue to get our Israel/Palestine drama only from Britain? If we're going overseas, what about the voices of those people directly? Or are the culturally soothing accents of the adored British theatre still required for mediation?

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