'Things We Do'

Oregon Stage Works Artistic Director Peter Alzado is persistent. He is passionate about bringing well-written, well-performed and thought-provoking theater to Ashland. With the financial and morale support of the local community, he has been able to bring some outstanding theater to this town.

A number of years ago, Alzado announced a production of "My Name is Rachel Corrie." It sparked such a firestorm of protest from the local Jewish community that Alzado shelved the project.

Now, this is not a criticism of Alzado. A number of theaters in the United States and in Canada have backed off from presenting "Rachel Corrie" when faced with exactly the same kind of protest.

The reason for the protest? "My Name is Rachel Corrie" is unabashedly pro-Palestinian. It is a play about a young idealistic American girl from Olympia, Wash., who went to the Gaza strip as part of the International Solidarity Movement to protest Israeli military actions against the civilian population, such as destroying wells and greenhouses and demolishing houses that may — or may not — be harboring snipers and rocket launchers. Rachel Corrie stood up to a bulldozer. The bulldozer won. She was buried alive.

It has been the goal of a number of pro-Israel groups to prevent or shut down any production of the play. They claim that it ignores the violent attacks by Palestinian militants on the civilian Israeli population.

Alzado's solution to doing "Rachel Corrie" is to present both the Israeli and the Palestinian views of the conflict in four plays over two evenings.

Part I consists of "Masked" by Israeli playwright Ilan Hatsor, about three Palestinian brothers caught up in the Intifada and the effects the uprising has on loyalty to family and a sense of community. "Rachel Corrie" is the second one-act play of the evening. It is an extended soliloquy by Corrie, played by Shayna Marie.

Part II starts with "The Jewish Wife" by Bertolt Brecht. It is a brief vignette about an elderly Jewish woman in Nazi Germany (Barbara Rosen) who has decided to leave her physician husband and flee to Amsterdam rather than continue to be a liability to her husband and friends in the face of rising anti-Semitism.

The second play of the second evening is "A Tiny Piece of Land" by Mel Weiser and Joni Browne-Walders. It's about a Jewish family removed from their settlement in Gaza when the Israelis withdrew. The family then waits for the Israeli government to start building them a new settlement on Israeli land in the Negev desert. The play presents everyday Israeli life with its constant fear of random rocket attacks, suicide bombings and kidnappings of Israeli soldiers by Palestinian guerillas.

Alzado has planned post-performance discussions after the plays on each Part II evening, moderated by Jeff Golden.

Artistically, the two evenings are stunning. Alzado directed all four of the plays. (Evalyn Hansen co-directed "The Jewish Wife.") As always, Alzado has assembled a wonderful group of actors and fashioned a miracle with minimalist scenic design.

Politically, however, there is a subtle irony within the selection of the plays.

"Rachel Corrie" has a very straightforward pro-Palestinian point of view. Written by British actor Alan Rickman (Professor Snape in the "Harry Potter" series) and Katherine Viner, based on Rachel Corrie's own diaries and emails, the play was first produced in Britain and won numerous awards.

The companion play, "Masked," is more problematic. It examines the lives of three brothers in a village on the West Bank during the period of the first Palestinian uprising. Every aspect of their daily life has been complicated by the violence of the Palestinian guerillas and Israeli efforts to find and root out the rebels. Check points, walls dividing Palestinian villages from adjacent Israeli land, long delays in normal travel, disappearing opportunities for work and study are the consequences. The oldest brother, Daoud (Robin Downward), is a janitor in a restaurant in Tel-Aviv and has a harrowing daily commute. He is the principal wage earner for the extended family and has fashioned a comfortable life for himself. The younger brother, Na'im (J.R. Storment), works in a butcher shop in the village. The middle brother, Khalid (Clinton Clark), has fled to the mountains with the Palestinian guerillas. Now Khalid has returned to warn Daoud that he is suspected of being a collaborator and his life is in danger.

As the pleas and recriminations between the brothers unfold, we learn that there is a still younger brother, Nabil, now rendered a vegetable from an Israeli army bullet when he was 7 years old. We learn that Daoud seems to have more money than a janitor would earn, seems to know more about the Israelis than he should reasonably know.

There are no clean hands here, no heroes. Both Daoud and Khalid have wrought disaster on their family, their village and their people.

On the other hand, the family in Part II's "A Tiny Piece of Land," is just too cute for words. The mom, Aviva (Isabelle Alzado), is a Sabra, a native-born Israeli, the granddaughter of Ukrainian Jews who literally walked to Palestine after a pogrom decimated their village. The dad, Yossi (Sam King), is an American who met Aviva on a student archeological dig and moved to Israel to become a kibbutz farmer. Yossi is an unabashed idealist, fervent about the Israeli dream of making the desert lush and prosperous. Their daughter, Rachel (played by the same actor who played Rachel Corrie), is a gifted pianist who is engaged to a "perfect" young man who just happens to be serving his stint in the Israeli Defense Forces. Into this idyllic family comes Yossi's brother, Barry (Golden), a dentist from Seattle. Barry tries to impose a bit of perspective of how the conflict is viewed by the world at large.

But Palestinian rockets fall on a nearby nursery school, friends are killed and, of course, something happens to the "perfect" fiancé — all to show the stress, sorrow and justified anger toward the Palestinians that shadows Israelis' everyday existence.

Unfortunately, when you attend both nights and compare the accounts of the lives of Palestinians as compared to Israelis, the problems are far from equal.

The Israeli family has plenty of food and creature comforts, both Yossi and Aviva have secure jobs, their new settlement will be built by the Israeli government, their daughter can study in peace at a conservatory. Sure, there is the daily fear that maybe a Palestinian rocket will land on them or suicide bomber will climb on a bus, but the odds are pretty remote.

The Palestinians in "Rachel Corrie" and in "Masked," on the other hand, are constantly harassed by the Israeli army, their homes and greenhouses and fields regularly destroyed on the suspicion that a rocket or sniper has come from their village or their houses. They are subject to random search and seizure. They are treated as somehow "less than" — less human, less valuable — than their Israeli neighbors.

Not all that different from the anti-Semitic Germany that "The Jewish Wife" is fleeing.

Alzado opens each evening with a story about an art exhibit on the Holocaust. The artist had posted a note before you entered the exhibit: "This brutality, this horror must not be blamed on any one nation or any one people. We do these things to each other. Until we understand that we are, each and every one of us, directly responsible for this world, the incidents of brutality that we visit on each other will never end."

"Things We Do" makes that point. Each faction in the Middle East has visited anger, violence and fanaticism on the other. The leadership on both sides sees the political advantage of blaming the other, having a scapegoat. Both sides need to have a forum to make their case.

Oregon Stage Works has tried to give us that forum.

"Things We Do" plays at 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Mondays with a 2 p.m. matinee Sundays through May 31. Call 482-2334 for the schedule of performances.

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