Jeffrey Goldberg isn’t the first, nor will he be the last, critic in the media and the blogs of the staging of Caryl Churchill’s “Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza” — which starts tonight in NY and DC at the New York Theater Workshop and Theater J. Churchill is passing on all royalties for people to stage the play, with the request that people donate to Medical Aid for Palestinians. There have already been staged readings in Cambridge, MA and in Chicago. There will be future readings again in Chicago and Los Angeles (if I’m missing more, add them in the thread below). [Update: add Austin to the list.]

This is what’s happening in DC:

A reading and critical discussion of the controversial 10-minute play – subtitled a play for Gaza – written as a direct response to the recent Israeli military campaign in Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009. Unfolding in seven sparsely poetic scenes and written in free-form verse, unnamed characters instruct their children, how best respond to the violent, provoking world around them. The short reading will be followed by artistic reactions to the play from authors moved to respond to Churchill’s play in dramatic verse and discussions with the audience about the play’s presentation and the controversy surrounding it, both in London and in the US.

In NY, after each staging, there will be a moderated discussion. Tomorrow night, Alisa Solomon and Tony Kushner, co-editors of Wrestling with Zion, will be moderating. Solomon, a long-time journalist, theater critic, and professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where she directs the MA concentration in Arts and Culture, also took the opportunity to cover the play on Beyond the Pale this past weekend.

Co-hosting with Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark, the two brought together company members of Theaters Against War & Rachel’s Words, who perform the play live for the radio audience, and also have a short discussion afterward.

You can listen, and read along.

 

Goldberg’s post focuses on the play being staged in Washington, DC at Theater J, a Jewish theater, and includes an exchange he had with Ari Roth who’s the Artistic Director. Roth has been under particular fire for agreeing to stage the show at a Jewish theater. He was recently interviewed by the Washington Post, where he said, “As a work of art, “Seven Jewish Children” is “deftly constructed, evocative, elusive and provocative.”

The Theater J’s blog includes commentary from various people, including an exchange with Caryl Churchill, Tony Kushner & Alisa Solomon, Ambassador Akbar Ahmed, and the letters go on calling for more discussions that disturb, provoke and awaken to push us beyond the same places and entrenchments people have been in for awhile now.

I want to excerpt part of a post that was written by Linda Ben-Zvi Professor at the Theatre Studies Department of Tel Aviv University, and also a full letter from Director Sinai Peter.

It is a frightening and dangerous situation when every serious work and every serious individual that looks critically at Israel’s actions is immediately branded anti-Semitic. The effect of such name calling, and its purpose, is to present a closed, united front on Israeli policies, suppress all discussion and debate, and—worst of all—breed self-censorship among those fearful of being labeled anti-Semites if they raise any questions about Israel’s positions and actions. Nothing can change if no new ideas are allowed to appear.

For an Israeli, these attempts to deny free discussion concerning the country’s policies is strange; here we engage in such, often acrimonious, debates as a matter of course, just as one would expect in a democratic society with a free press, and cultural institutions not subject to external censorship. Why should it be different in the UK or in America? It is often argued that it is one thing to hang one’s “dirty laundry” at home, another to show it to the outside. Yet, no country is above international scrutiny; and the very complexities of the Middle East demand attention, just as they demand debate and hard questions. The fear of engaging in discussion abroad has contributed to the very morass we face in the region today.

From Sinai Peter:

Dear Ari

(Please, feel free to use my words and edit them as well)

I have a very painful argument with Ms. Churchill about boycotting Israel’s stages for so long. Her stand towards us- Israeli artists – is unexpected [corrected to UNACCEPTABLE–see comment].

BUT her play “7 Jewish kids” has such a moral value, and such an important role in attracting the attention of people all over the world towards the evil war in Gaza,that I feel that it is necessary to bring it to the Jewish people in the US.

I said it before on the stage of “The Accident” in theater J and I’ll repeat it :

It is our moral obligation to look at the faces of the hundreds of the innocent Gaza children who were killed during so many “hit-and-run accidents” of the Israeli recent war.

We have to look deep into our souls and realize: How did we become like that?
Churchill’s play deals with it. One can’t avoid it.

Theater J’s decision to read publicly the play is one of the necessary steps to begin the Tikun [repair] or at least- the discussion.

Yours sincerely

Sinai Peter
Haifa

Go see the play. Or, if you’re like me and don’t live where it’s being staged, listen and read it yourself. Then discuss. Debate. Disagree. But be open to taking it in, first. As Roth says, “there are many rational ways to interpret “Seven Jewish Children.” It’s a quick play, he says, “that accomplishes an awful lot.””