web analytics
November 26, 2014 / 4 Kislev, 5775
At a Glance
Sections
Sponsored Post
IDC Herzliya Campus A Day on Campus

To mark IDC Herzliya’s 20th anniversary, we spent a day following Prof. Uriel Reichman, IDC’s founder and president, and Jonathan Davis, VP for External Relations, around its delightful campus.



Home » Sections » Arts »

Is There A Theatrical Definition Of ‘Never Again’?

Honey Brown Eyes
By Stefanie Zadravec, directed by Jessica Lefkow
October 22-November 30, 2008
Theater J, Washington D.C. JCC
1529 16th Street, NW, Washington
http://www.theaterj.org/


 
“Some of our most exquisite murders,” Alfred Hitchcock famously observed, “have been domestic, performed with tenderness in simple, homey places like [at] the kitchen table.” Norman Bates’ murder of Marion Crane in Hitchcock’s 1960 film “Psycho” is particularly terrifying because it is a domestic space. Janet Leigh, the actress who played Crane, even feared taking showers after seeing the murder scene on screen. “It’s not hype, not something I thought would be good for publicity,” she said in interviews. “Honest to gosh, it’s true.”

 

The violence and killing in Stefanie Zadravec’s “Honey Brown Eyes,” currently in its world premiere at Theater J at the Washington D.C. JCC, center around the kitchen table and carry a dark tenderness that is perhaps worthy of Hitchcock himself. Just as it is difficult to judge Bates in “Psycho” – can he be evil if he is so mentally deranged? – Zadravec’s killer, Dragan (Alexander Strain), is the confused sort of young man you would expect him to be: he shoots with the gun he is handed with his military fatigues, and he plays G-d by “mercifully” executing a mother, so that his comrades will not torture and rape her later.

 

 


Maia DeSanti as Alma and Alexander Strain as Dragan

 

The “Honey Brown Eyes” is Alma (Maia DeSanti), a Bosnian-Muslim woman in her 30s, whose childhood beauty and eyes, which earned her nickname, have long since dimmed due to age and suffering. Alma’s husband, as she tells the Serbian soldier who breaks into her kitchen and takes her hostage, has been shot and thrown off a bridge. In between assaults and threats of rape from Dragan, the 20-something Bosnian-Serb soldier, Alma reveals that she has not yet been able to retrieve her husband’s body and bury it. But however traumatized, she knows enough to tell Dragan that she has a son and to deny having a 12-year-old daughter, as his list of names tells him. Alma knows enough to suspect the Serbian officials’ designs in rounding up teen-aged girls.


Alma meets a tragic end – even a connection with Dragan through her younger brother Denis (Joel Reuben Ganz) cannot save her from his gun – and her daughter Zlata (Taylor Dawson) cautiously emerges from her hiding place only to be caught by Dragan. While all seems lost, Denis flees the Serbian soldiers and hides in the apartment (arriving through the kitchen) of Jovanka (Barbara Rappaport), a 60-something Bosnian woman who teaches him how to live even as gunfire keeps erupting outside her windows. The play ends ambiguously, but viewers can choose a happy ending if they so desire.

 

 


Barbara Rappaport as Jovanka and Joel Reuben Ganz as Denis

 

The war which broke out in the early 90s in the Balkans is not a conflict where we would expect to find Jewish characters, and the closest thing in the play is probably Jovanka’s resemblance to a Brooklyn bubbie in her matter-of-fact approach to her life in a war zone and her insistence on feeding her guest. Indeed, Ari Roth, artistic director of Theater J, calls the play an “unlikely” choice for the Jewish theater, though he also insists it is an “inevitable” one. “Unlikely because we’ve never been to the Balkans before as a company,” Roth wrote on the Theater J website. “We’ve gone to different parts of Europe to trigger memory of a different genocide. Which is, of course, what also makes this inevitable.”


According to Roth, the play taps into a different sort of Holocaust memory, since the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum opened amidst the outbreak of war in the Balkans in 1992. “Speaker after speaker reminded those assembled that it was a collective responsibility, as survivors and their descendents, as bystanders and war veterans, to never succumb to the moral failing of passivity,” Roth wrote. “‘When you see genocide, say something; do something.’ We have not eradicated atrocity in our times.”

 

 


Barbara Rappaport as Jovanka and Joel Reuben Ganz as Denis

 

The Holocaust Museum’s mandate should clearly be tied to the important question of whether commitment to Holocaust memory necessitates responsibility in all other genocides. But even if Jews should be leading the way in fighting genocides of all kinds, is there anything Jewish about a play about war in the Balkans just because it appears at a Jewish theater? Would the Jewish angle even occur to us if it appeared at a theater that was not affiliated with a Jewish Community Center?


If I am honest, I was skeptical about the play’s relevance to a Jewish audience before seeing it. I felt the same way after seeing it, until I realized that it felt particularly pertinent while I was sitting in the audience. In the Balkans, we see innocent and unarmed Muslims being brutally attacked just for being Muslims, an unjust religious persecution with which Jews can definitely identify. And several of the exchanges in the brilliant dialogue rang so true that they transcended the war in the Balkans and carried universal appeal. In one exchange, Denis, who is aware that neither his sister nor his brother-in-law has been killed, tells Jovanka about how he blames himself for leaving Alma and her husband and joining the war. Denis, who is depressed to the point of suicide, says:


Denis: I am not a Muslim, a father, a husband. I am nothing.
Jovanka: You’re alive.
Denis: And that is all.
Jovanka takes the pot off the stove and serves Denis.
Jovanka: Eat. It’s amazing what a little salt will do.
Denis: You are a good Bosnian.
Jovanka: And also a Serb.


Conflict has a way of bringing people together, and one can imagine discussions like this one in concentration camps where Jews had to come to grips with being forced away from their families and celebrating being alive even if they could not help but prefer to be dead. Denis and Jovanka have little trouble focusing on their similarities (both hungry, lonely, deserted, and fed up with war), rather than their differences as Serbs or Muslims.


One play is not going to offer Jews and Muslims a roadmap for finding common ground and overcoming differences. But without sounding naïve and starry-eyed, I think I am on solid ground in saying that one play in one Jewish theater can lead to more artistic explorations of this kind. Even if we cannot all agree on what precisely is the Jewish obligation in Darfur or in the other genocides across the globe – and that is a question we must iron out in places other than art columns – it is important to engage this question in our museums and theaters. Theater J should be commended for going out to the Balkans for the first time, as Roth explained, and for bringing its audience along for the ride. And who knows, perhaps if theaters can help come up with a great definition for “Never More,” maybe it will be convertible to the realm of international affairs and diplomacy. 
 
Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, and resides in Washington, D.C.

        
All photos by Stan Barouh

About the Author: Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Is There A Theatrical Definition Of ‘Never Again’?”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
F-16 fighter jet.
ISIS ‘Prince’ of Iraq’s Anbar Province Killed
Latest Sections Stories
Schonfeld-logo1

This core idea of memory is very difficult to fully comprehend; however, it is essential.

Respler-112114

Sometimes the most powerful countermove one can make when a person is screaming is to calmly say that her behavior is not helpful and then continue interacting with the rest of the family while ignoring the enraged person.

LBJ-112114

“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples shall divide within you.”

Divorce from a vindictive, cruel spouse can be a lifelong nightmare when there are offspring.

There were many French Jews who jumped at the chance to shed their ancient identity and assimilate.

As Rabbi Shemtov stood on the stage and looked out at the attendees, he told them that “Rather than take photos with your cellphones, take a mental photo and keep this Shabbat in your mind and take it with you throughout your life.”

Yeshiva v’Kollel Bais Moshe Chaim will be holding a grand celebration on the occasion of the institution’s 40th anniversary on Sunday evening, December 7. Alumni, students, friends and faculty of the yeshiva, also known as Talmudic University of Florida, will celebrate the achievement and vision of its founders and the spiritual guidance of its educational […]

The yeshiva night accommodates all levels of Jewish education.

Recently, Fort Lauderdale has been the focus of international news, and it has not been about the wonderful weather.

Rabbi Sacks held the position of chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth for 22 years until September 2013.

The event included a dvar Torah by student Pesach Bixon, an overview of courses, information about student life and a student panel that answered frequently asked questions from a student perspective.

It is difficult to write about such a holy person, for I fear I will not accurately portray his greatness…

“Grandpa,” I wondered, as the swing began to slow down, “why are there numbers on your arm?”

So the real question is, “How can we, as hosts, make sure our guest beds are comfortable?” Because your guests will never say anything.

More Articles from Menachem Wecker
Menachem Wecker

The exhibit, according to a statement from guest curator Michele Waalkes which is posted on the museum website, “examines how faith can inform and inspire artists in their work, whether their work is symbolic, pictorial, or textual in nature. It further explores how present-day artwork can lead audiences to ponder God, religious themes, venerated traditions, or spiritual insights.”

Weck-051812

It all started at an art and education conference at the Yeshiva University Museum. When one of the speakers misidentified a Goya painting at the Frick Collection, both the gentleman sitting next to me and I turned to each other and corrected the error simultaneously.

One of my favorite places when I was growing up in Boston was the used bookstore on Beacon and St. Mary’s streets. Boston Book Annex could play a used bookshop on television; it was dimly lit and cavernous, crawling with cats, and packed with a dizzying array of books, many of which sold three for a dollar. But used bookstores of this sort, however picturesque and inviting, are a relatively modern phenomena. In the Middle Ages, for example, I would never have been able to afford even a single used book unless I had been born into an aristocratic family. (Full disclosure, I was not.)

Jewish medals, several with Hebrew inscriptions and provocative imagery, were among the gems at The European Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, Netherlands, as I wrote in these pages two weeks ago. Another mini-trend at the fair, which will interest Jewish art aficionados, was an abundance of works by Marc Chagall.

It’s virtually impossible to ignore the financial aspects of TEFAF Maastricht, the annual arts and antiques fair in the historic city about two hours south of Amsterdam. More than 250 dealers from nearly 20 countries sell their wares—which span from Greek and Roman antiquities to contemporary sculptures—in the halls of the Maastricht Exhibition and Congress Centre, whose corridors are adorned by nearly 65,000 tulips.

Max Ferguson’s 1993 painting Katz’s may be the second most iconic representation of the kosher-style delicatessen after the 1989 Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan film, When Harry Met Sally. Ferguson’s photorealistic painting depicts the deli from an interesting perspective, which is simultaneously inviting and hostile—in short, the dichotomy of deli culture.

The whole idea of an artful pushka (tzeddakah or charity box) is almost a tease, if not an outright mockery. Isn’t there something pretty backward about investing time and money in an ornate container to hold alms for the poor?

Located about nine miles north of Madrid, the Palacio Real de El Pardo (Pardo Palace) dates back to the early 15th century. Devastated by a March 13, 1604 fire that claimed many works from its priceless art collection, the Pardo Palace and its vast gardens were used as a hunting ground by the Spanish monarchs.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/is-there-a-theatrical-definition-of-never-again/2008/11/26/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: