OSW takes a hard look at 'Things We Do'

"The brutalities that we, the human race, visit on each other are not particular to any one country or people," said Peter Alzado, producing artistic director of Oregon Stage Works. "We do these things to each other and have forever, and it will never change until many more of us understand that each and every one of us is directly responsible for this world."

As a step in developing that understanding, Oregon Stage Works will present "Things We Do," a series of plays about the Israeli/Palestinian crisis and the human cost of armed conflict.

The series will preview at 7 p.m. Monday-Tuesday, May 11-12, at the theater, 191 A St., Ashland. The shows will open at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 13, and will run at 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Mondays and 2 p.m. Sundays through May 31.

Alzado decided to put "Things We Do" together after plans in the summer of 2007 to stage "Rachel Corrie" stirred controversy in the community. He said the reaction "got me thinking about the nature of conflict, predjudice and suspicion, and what that leads to, the human cost of it."

He added that while the four plays represent a range of positions, the production is not about politics.

"It's not about blame, what we did versus what they did," he said. "It's not even about balancing one argument with another. It's about recognizing that the behaviors we condemn in 'the other' are things we all do to one another. And until we recognize this behavior as part of us and accept reponsibility for it, the hatred and violence will never stop."

Pam Vavra, director of The Peace House in Ashland, hopes that the plays' "humanizing qualities will help to heal the divisive

ness in our community surrounding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict."

"Things We Do" will be presented in two parts, with two plays showing each night. Part one is comprised of "Masked" and "My Name is Rachel Corrie." Part two is "The Jewish Wife" and "A Tiny Piece of Land." One ticket is good for all four plays. A fifth play, "Anxious State," will be read one night only at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 17, and requires a separate ticket. Post play discussions are planned.

"Things We Do" gives armed conflict, which is often far away and impersonal, a human face and soul.

"It's not about taking sides," Alzado said of the series. "It's about how suspicion, prejudice and hatred allow us to dehumanize each other, to create the 'other,' 'a different being,' which makes destruction of the 'other' palatable and doable."

Part One: Set against the backdrop of the first Palestinian uprising or Intifada, "Masked," by Jewish Israeli playwright Ilan Hatsor examines the effect the Israeli/Palestinian conflict has on three Palestinian brothers. The play raises complex questions about loyalty and duty and about obligations to one's family, one's country and oneself.

The action in "Masked" takes place in a butcher shop on the West Bank. Na'im, the middle brother, is involved with a Palestinian militant group. He suspects that his older brother, Daoud, is an informant and collaborator. In an attempt to protect Daoud from the wrath of his group's leaders, and possibly save his brother's life, Na'im, with the help of his younger brother Khalid, sets up a ruse to find out for sure if Daoud is an informant.

In an interview with The New York Times, Hatsor said, "Conflicts between brothers are the oldest conflicts of all nations. I didn't imagine them as Arab or Palestinian, but as brothers torn apart by larger forces. I asked myself, 'What would happen if this was my brother?'" Hatsor noted that the same story has played out in Ireland, Bosnia and now Iraq.

Adapted from the writings, e-mails and diary of Rachel Aliene Corrie (1979 - 2003) by Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner, "My Name is Rachel Corrie" is a one woman show. Corrie was an American college student from Olympia, Wash., who became a member of the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), and who travelled to the Gaza Strip during the second Intifada. (In Arabic, Intifada translates as "tremors" or "to shake off.") While protesting with other members of the ISM against the destruction of Palestinian homes by the Israeli Defense Forces, Corrie was killed by an Israeli bulldozer. The details of the events surrounding Corrie's death are disputed.

Part Two: "The Jewish Wife", a short piece by Bertolt Brecht, takes place in Berlin in the mid 1930s, and focuses on a middle-class doctor's wife, who, having realized that she is a liability to her gentile husband, and in grave personal danger herself, decides to leave Berlin alone.

The play speaks to the insidious nature of the fear and misery the Third Reich has instilled in her, and upon her marraige. We see the almost unbearably disheartening choices she must make to survive. We witness her agitated state as she packs and gets ready to go, we overhear phone calls to friends that keep up the fiction that she is taking a two-week break in Amsterdam, we watch her rehearse a more honest and indignant confrontation with her husband, and then see what really happens when he finally comes home.

The world premier of "A Tiny Piece of Land," by Mel Weiser and Joni Browne-Walders, puts the spotlight on an Israeli family. The play tells the story of the Ben Dami family who lived in Gaza, but are now being resettled in the Negev. The characters are: Aviva, the Sabra (a native-born Israeli) wife; David, the American-born husband; daughter Rachel, a budding musician; Barry, David's brother, visiting from the states.

Once prosperous farmers in Gaza, the Ben Dami family is now fighting with the Israeli government to keep their community intact. Rockets are falling, killing friends. Long lost brother Barry, beset with a recent crisis of his own, arrives from the U.S. with sympathies for the Palestinian cause. Then, a traumatic incident befalls the family, and the intensity of their situation escalates. The play delves into contemporary Israel and the family's attempt to exist from day to day, war to war.

Weiser and Browne-Walders, who will be in Ashland for the play's opening, visited Israel to do research for the play and talked to dozens of people, Israelis and Palestinians, on buses, in cafes, on the streets and in offices. They found that most people, despite living with a shared sense of suspicion, distrust and anxiety, want to live in peace. "War however," said Weiser, "does not play favorites. It dehumanizes people."

Jews and Palestinians have not always been fighting each other, said Kamal Hassan, a Palestinian peace activist who was born and raised in the Middle East. "My family lived in Haifa for many generations," Hassan said. "We (like the Ben Dami family) were in the wholesale vegetable business. My father and my older siblings told me that they had many Jewish friends. They ate together, played together and worked together."

The fifth play in the program, "Anxious State," is a one-act play by local playwright and Rabbi, Marc Sirinsky. It will be read by Oregon Shakespeare Festival actor Anthony Heald. The play is adapted from the book, "If A Place Can Make You Cry," by Daniel Gordis.

Gordis, a Rabbi and a scholar of Jewish studies, left Los Angeles in 1998, and with his family moved to Israel. Upon his arrival, Gordis started sending out e-mails to friends and colleagues about his and his familiy's life in Israel. On his website, Gordis writes that the e-mails chronicle their loss of innocence, and "tell the story of a family that moved from a serene and secure Los Angeles neighborhood, to an Israel not at peace, but at war."

"He (Gordis) writes from a spiritual and emotional point of view, not a political one," Sirinsky said. He hopes the plays will promote dialogue, and "help people to understand, and be respectful, of each other." Sirinsky also talked about the "spectrum of viewpoints" that exist concerning the Israeli/Palestinian dilemma, and that "maybe the plays will help people to see God in a place where they've never seen God before."

Allen Hallmark, a peace activist with Citizens for Peace and Justice, adds that, "Before we can put an end to war, we need to examine such conflicts in depth and begin to understand the human suffering, collateral damage and spiritual consequences that inevitably occur when people try to solve their problems with warfare."

Alzado is very pleased with the way the actors have given themselves to the project. He is grateful for all of the production help he's had and noted that Rabbis Sirinsky and David Zaslow made themselves available for consultation. To accurately portray the dialect and culture of Palestinian Arabs Alzado obtained assistance from Hassan and former drama student Ben Searcy.

"It is my hope that these plays will provide a view into the universal and horrendous suffering that armed conflict causes," Alzado said, "and by doing so, will help us to think about armed conflict in ways we might not have before. Live theater, if done well, gives us the opportunity to bypass our protective armor, and go right to the heart of what it means to be human."

Tickets are $20, and are good for all four shows. If possible, patrons are encouraged to attend on consecutive nights. Tickets for "Anxious State" cost a suggested donation of between $10 and $20. See, oregonstageworks.org, or call 482-2334.

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