Reading Hebron, Orange Tree, Richmond
Wednesday 16 February 2011
On 25 February 1994, a Jewish settler named Baruch Goldstein from the West Bank city of Hebron shot dead 29 Palestinian worshippers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs, a site sacred to both Jews and Muslims. Reading about this atrocity sends Nathan Abramowitz, the Toronto Jew who is the driven protagonist of Jason Sherman's hard-hitting play, onto an investigative trail that then spirals into an obsessive, savagely zany examination of Israeli politics, American support for Israel, and, last but far from least, his own psychology as a so-called self-hating liberal Jew.
The piece begins in decorous documentary style as witnesses give evidence to the official Commission of Inquiry. The issue of whether Goldstein was a single madman or whether he had accomplices soon gives way in Nathan's mind to the larger question of whether his action, far from being eccentric, epitomises the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel and (by extension) her non-Israeli Jewish supporters.
His fevered imagination (superbly communicated by a frantic David Antrobus) starts to play tricks on him, the synaptic switches between the fantastical and the real conveyed brilliantly in Sam Walters's fine production. Typically, the loan officer at his bank becomes a capitalist fat cat mocking Noam Chomsky's view that Israel is America's client state, with the Middle East run by the chairman of General Motors. Chomsky himself pops up from under the table, as does Edward Said. The questions posed here and in a wild parody of a TV open-mike slot (step up Cynthia Ozick and Steven Spielberg) are calculatedly uncomfortable, even going as far at one point as to ask whether Baruch Goldstein is the logical conclusion of Orthodox education.
What makes one just as uneasy, though, is the sense that the original massacre is actively upstaged by our hero's tragicomic inner turmoil.
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