Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 5, No. 0871. Sunday, 30 October 1994.
From: Bradley S. Berens <
Date: Saturday, 29 Oct 1994 15:49:58 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: The Israeli/Palestinian R&J
At long last, the epic tide of work ebbed just long enough for me to drag
out the transcription machine and render the following.
If anyone has further information on this production, I'm dying to know.
Bradley S. Berens
NPR's "ALL THINGS CONSIDERED."
***Please do not hold the transcriber (me) responsible for the accuracy
of proper nouns. If anyone knows the correct spelling for something,
please email me: I'll edit, and send out an updated version.***
***I render this transcription freely, asking only for an acknowledgment
that you heard of it from me if anybody quotes it in print.***
This week's summit between the leaders of Israel and Jordan has raised
expectations that those two countries will now move closer, both
politically and economically. Israel's peace agreement with the PLO has
produced a somewhat different result. For many Israelis and
Palestinians, peace has meant a welcome divorce, not a marriage. So far,
there have been few examples of the two groups working together. One of
the few is a joint production of a play by an Israeli theater and a
The play chosen was Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET, performed in both
Arabic and Hebrew. One of the feuding families is played by Israelis,
the other by Palestinians. The play just ended a successful run in
Jerusalem, and after a tour of Europe this fall, it will be returning to
Tel Aviv. As NPR's Paul Miller reports now, the reality of the Middle
East adds extra drama to Shakespeare's story of violence,
misunderstanding, and the tragic death of two young lovers.
[Music and praying voices in background as introduction, then Paul
In Jerusalem, a family grieves for another young man killed in violence
between enemies from the same city. This time, it is only a
play--Shakespeare's ROMEO AND JULIET-- but the production is anything but
a diversion from reality. The Capulets mourning the death of Tybalt at
the hands of Romeo are Jews. Romeo, and the rest of the Montagues, are
Arabs. When the families speak among themselves, they do so in their own
language. They communicate with each other in Hebrew, the common
language of the occupation.
[Voices yelling in Hebrew.]
When they fight, as when Romeo kills Tybalt, they use the weapons of the
Intifada: stones and knives, instead of swords. Aran Baniel, the
Israeli co-director, says a meeting of the two cultures--even on
stage--had to acknowledge certain realities.
There's violence. There's hatred. All our history comes onto the stage
without one word away from Shakespeare. We don't need--we didn't need
that. It comes through the energies, the undertones.
The joint production between the Israeli Kahn Theater and the Palestinian
Al-Casaba Theater is the first equal partnership. In the past, Arabs
have worked for, not with, Israeli theaters. Aran Baniel says this is a
true co-operative effort, and not a gimmick.
You can't brush us off as one of those, you know, nice things that are
done in the name of peace. A Jewish kindergarten and a Palestinian
kindergarten meet together and play dolls, you know? No! It isn't
that. It is bloody serious stuff, this meeting of the two cultures.
For a long time, Palestinian theater companies were NOT interested in
joint productions with Israelis, afraid that would be seen as acceptance
of occupation. George Ebraheim, the artistic director of the Al-Casaba
theater, says perspectives changed with the beginning of Palestinian self
As Palestinians, we feel that the--the times comes to start thinking of,
uhhh, how we can live together--together, because now we are obliged to
live together and our destiny says so. That's why it is very important
for us to let the Israelis know us better, know our culture better, and,
of course, we will know their culture and their problems better, uhhhh,
through this production.
[Voices singing in the background.]
Creating the joint production was more difficult than anticipated.
Cultural differences--as well as artistic--required lengthy negotiations
on almost every word and gesture. Initially, the actors were wary of
each other. At first, the two sides rehearsed separately, with separate
directors. Joint rehearsals had just started in February, when Baruk
Goldstein, an Israeli settler, killed 29 Palestinian worshippers in
Hebron. The massacre caused tremendous tension among cast members.
Kalifa Natur, who plays Romeo, says he wanted to quit a production that,
suddenly, seemed frivolous.
It was too difficult for me and for my--uhhh--friends to continue in this
day, and two day, three days after that. That's normal: that's love and
hate and crying and--ehhh--playing--ehhhh--and dancing. It's too difficult.
After long discussion, work resumed. There were more rough moments,
after reprisal bombings by Palestinian extremists killed 13 Israelis.
Orna Katz is the Israeli actress who plays Juliet.
The experience was very deep, and many things happened that made it very
different, made it very very different. Made it--ummmm, uhhhh--very much
connected with real life, much more than usually when working in theater.
There were logistical problems as well. Because Israel had closed the
occupied territories after the reprisal bombings, some of the actors had
to be smuggled into Jerusalem for rehearsals.
[Hebrew voices, sounding like a translation of Juliet's argument with her
And there were financial problems. ROMEO AND JULIET's Arab/Jewish
romance, including the famous balcony scene, scared off some of the Kahn
Theater's traditional backers. And there were threatening phone calls
from Palestinians and Israelis who were not ready to embrace former
enemies, or to see such embraces on stage.
George Ebraheim, of the Palestinian Al-Casaba Theater:
This play was made to have both--both nations, both audience, Arabs and
Israelis together--to, to, to see the play together, and they, we don't
like to--to perform for an Israeli audience, this is not our aim.
Nor was it the producer's aim to give the audience a comfortable ending
to the play. In Shakespeare's version, the two families come together
and vow to end their feud in honor of the dead lovers. But in this
Israeli and Palestinian production, the family members gather and repeat
part of the prologue, which, Aran Baniel says, speaks of senseless
violence and the tragedy of the young victims:
As if it was an endless prayer, to remember all the Romeos and Juliets we
mustn't allow the audience to feel everything is now okay. It's not.
Baniel says there is a lot to be done for peace. Some critics suggest
the production needs work as well. They dismiss the use of two languages
as a gimmick, and say Romeo and Juliet's love affair lacks real passion.
The critics ask if good intentions, and the balancing of two cultures,
can produce good theater. The actors say this is not a production
intended to transcend reality, but to bring it home. Orna Katz, who
I hope it can move, personally, people that see it. I don't think it can
really move politically anything higher than that. I hope it will do
something personally to each--everybody that sees it. That will be,
really, a real success.
The producer's consider the play success--whether or not it qualifies as
classic Shakespeare--because it has allowed some Palestinians and
Israelis to create something together, and made other Palestinians and
Israelis think about breaking with the past.
I'm Paul Miller in Jerusalem.