Tuesday, March 17, 2009

  • Tuesday, March 17, 2009
  • Elder of Ziyon
The Washington Post reports on the anti-semitic Caryl Churchill play, "Seven Jewish Children," being performed at...the Jewish Community Center of Washington:
As a work of art, "Seven Jewish Children" is "deftly constructed, evocative, elusive and provocative," says Ari Roth. He is the artistic director of the Jewish Community Center's Theater J in Northwest Washington, where staged readings of the play will be offered on March 26 and 28. (Collaborator Forum Theatre in Northeast Washington will house the play on March 27 and 29, as Theater J does not have Friday performances and Forum has put on Churchill's works before. )

Some have argued that the play is also something insidious. Consider these lines of dialogue: "Tell her they live in tents. Tell her this wasn't their home." And then, "Tell her they don't understand anything except violence." And then, "Tell her they're filth." And finally, the jarringly brutal, "Tell her I wouldn't care if we wiped them out."

When the play premiered in London this year, some theater critics called the work anti-Semitic. The Spectator labeled the play "an open incitement to hatred" and a "ten-minute blood-libel."

In British media, Churchill has denied charges of anti-Semitism; Roth wonders whether an American audience will have a reaction so vehemently negative. "The idea is to give the play a hearing, to approach it in the spirit of inquiry," Roth says. "We're not going to take a right-wing British journalist's word that it's blood-libel."
This statement is so stupid it stretches credulity. Does one have to watch a play to see what it states, or can one perhaps accomplish that by reading the script?
Instead, the two Washington theaters, both of which frequently hold issue-based discussion groups, will present the play as an opportunity for dialogue, holding forums after each performance. Theater J will also follow "Seven Jewish Children" by debuting a response play, "Seven Palestinian Children," which New Jersey playwright Deb Margolin wrote after reading Churchill's work.
I am insulted that the magnum opus I composed yesterday is not being considered as an appropriate response.

Although Margolin's play also features some controversial language -- "Tell him: When old men die, it is expected; when young men die, it is sacred" -- she argues that her play comes from a humanitarian perspective. "What I want to speak to is that moment when one human being is incapable of seeing the humanity in another," Margolin says. She is Jewish and says distress over some of Churchill's generalizations about the Jewish community caused Margolin to write her own play.
Unfortunately, this misses the point. The problem with "Seven Jewish Children" is a gentile, who is clearly antipathic towards Zionists/Jews, is lying about how Jews think and dramatizing those lies. A response play is not the proper way to put lies in context; lies have no context. They should be demolished or dismissed, but not taken, even for a moment, as fact.

"My druthers would be to critique this play dramaturgically, not politically," Roth says. But separating art from politics in a work as fraught as "Seven Jewish Children" might be a nearly impossible task, even for sophisticated theatergoers. The play brings up issues that prompt immediate emotional responses, however you perceive Churchill's intent.
The Washington Post understands the problem more than the Jewish art director of the JCC.
Roth believes that there are many rational ways to interpret "Seven Jewish Children." It's a quick play, he says, "that accomplishes an awful lot."
Oh, please. It isn't Shakespeare. There is only one rational way to interpret it, and it is to make Jews look like hypocritical, bloodthirsty usurpers of peaceful Arabs.
(h/t jh in the comments)

UPDATE: I wanted to point out another absurd part of this story:
"My druthers would be to critique this play dramaturgically, not politically," Roth says.
By Roth's logic, if someone would write a catchy pop song called "Kill the Jews," the proper response would be to write a competing song called "Please Don't Kill Us" and play both of them in the interests of "debate."

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