Monthly Archives: May 2009


(Charles McNulty’s review appeared in the Los Angeles Times; Dany Margolies’s appeared in Back Stage—both on May 18. Thanks to Jimmy Maize on Twitter for letting us know about this play.)

LA TIMES: Review:  Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo at the Kirk Douglas Theatre

Two U.S. soldiers out of their depths in war-torn Baghdad, an Iraqi topiary artist-turned-translator for the coalition forces, the ghost of Uday Hussein (toting the decapitated head of his brother Qusay), a teenage prostitute wearing a disco head scarf, a friendly leper whose colony has been reduced to rubble, and a big cat that becomes a kind of moral philosopher after it's shot for biting the American hand that's trying to feed it.

No, it’s not your ordinary dramatis personae, but then Rajiv Joseph’s “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” which had its world premiere Sunday at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, is no ordinary play. I’m tempted to call it the most original drama written so far about the Iraq war, but why sell the work short? The imagination behind it is way too thrillingly genre-busting to be confined within such a limiting category.

An ebullient synthesizer of world data, Joseph is not just alert to the fevered geopolitical madness surrounding us, he’s also endlessly inventive in finding bold theatrical metaphors to depict the extent of the depravity. “Bengal Tiger” marks the breakthrough of a major new playwriting talent. Attending the opening gave me a sense of what it must have been like to be in London when Caryl Churchill burst on the scene at the Royal Court in the 1970s. I’d like to find analogies closer to home, but it’s not easy to come up with an American comparison whose liberated stage vocabulary similarly blends acute social commentary with tragicomic mayhem.

Before delving into the play, let’s give some well-deserved credit to Moisés Kaufman, whose direction allows us to appreciate both the wonderful comic audacity and diffuse sensitivity of Joseph’s style. Kaufman, a playwright himself (his “33 Variations” received a Tony nomination for best play this season), was an inspired choice. And his vibrant staging, which features atmospheric sets of Middle Eastern hues and accents by Derek McLane, and a versatile ensemble cast precisely locate Joseph’s newfound theatrical ZIP Code . . .

(Read more)


BACK STAGE: Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (Critics’ Pick)

The brain jolts to a start at the top of this world premiere and doesn't cease whirring, even after the blood-streaked actors accept their well-deserved ovations. Rajiv Joseph has penned a monumental work that muses on cruelty and nature, language and creativity, religion and remorse, and probably more that still hasn't sunk in.

You'll notice the play's title does not put the feline in the zoo but rather at the zoo. That's a first clue that language is dear to Joseph, proven as the play percolates onward. The tiger, the character with initially the most self-awareness, bemoans his brutal temperament. If he's hungry, he'll kill. But as the world will have it, he is in turn killed—by an equally alien American soldier who, with a buddy he presumes he knows well, guards the beast in an environment none of them can call home. Meanwhile, an Iraqi translator named Musa ponders the vagaries of the English language and how he, too, has been wrenched from his life as a creative and peaceful gardener and is now asking his countrymen to perform "unspeakable" acts. The tiger's ghost haunts the American soldier; Uday Hussein's ghost haunts Musa, who then is haunted by his sister's ghost. Several of the characters' hands are lost, whether to violence or hideous disease. In return, those characters floating in an afterlife—but, as they notice, not in heaven—are given intelligence and insight.

(Read more)

(More info, Kirk Douglas Theatre)



(Moises Kaufman’s writing is represented in One On One:  The Best Men’s Monologues for the 21st Century out now from Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.)


JOYCE E. HENRY, editor of the Applause Acting Series books (One On One:  The Best Women’s Monologues for the 21st Century; One On One:  The Best Men’s Monologues for the 21st Century; and the August release DUO!:  The Best Scenes for Two for the 21st Century) is professor emerita of Theatre and Communication Studies at Ursinus College.  She is also the editor of The Wisdom of Shakespeare (Citadel) and author of Beat the Bard:  What’s Your Shakespeare IQ? (Citadel). Currently, she is playing in Tartuffe at Stagenorth in Washburn, Wisconsin.

Moliere's TARTUFFE
May 21-31

STAGENORTH is pleased to present Moliere's classic play "Tartuffe" for the next two weekends.  The comedy, beautifully translated into English verse by Richard Wilbur, tells the story of a buffoon who gets entangled in the web of a scheming hypocrite.  Heralded as one of the most brilliant comedies of all time, this play is directed by Jan Lee and features Jack Beagan, Noah Siegler,

Rick Burkman, Brooke Melek, Janet Bewley,

Lydia Caswell, Nash Rochman, Sam Gray,

Tom Mitchell, Joyce Henry, and Mary Methven. 




Located in Washburn, on the beautiful south shore of Lake Superior at Chequamegon Bay, the “gateway to the Apostle Islands”, STAGENORTH is a performing arts center designed to entertain, educate and include the community in live theater. The new STAGENORTH, the only purpose-built theater in the area, was opened in July 2007.

STAGENORTH house is a 145-seat theater, including a 50-seat balcony. The two-story lobby has seating areas, a performing space, and THE STAGE DOOR BAR, a casual bar open seven days a week. The bar features wireless Internet and a spacious terrace facing Lake Superior’s Chequamegon Bay.

In 2002 the Governor of the State of Wisconsin officially designated STAGENORTH a Wisconsin Treasure.

The next two weekends
Thursday-Saturday at 7:30
Sunday at 2PM
$15 Adult
$13 Senior
$5 Student

To reserve your tickets, call:

(715) 373-1194 

or visit


OBIE WINNERS 2008-2009 ·

(The following article by Brian Parks appeared in The Village Voice, May 18.)

Congratulations to this year's OBIE Award winners! The 54th Annual Village Voice OBIE Awards ceremony has just been held at Webster Hall in Manhattan. Co-hosted by former OBIE winners Martha Plimpton and Daniel Breaker, this year's honors were presented by actors Anne Hathaway, Brian d'Arcy James, Gavin Creel, John Shea, Karen Olivo, Kate Mulgrew, Marc Kudisch, and Nilaja Sun.

THE 2008-2009 WINNERS:

Lifetime Achievement Award


Best New American Play (includes a cash prize of $1,000)

RUINED by Lynn Nottage (Manhattan Theatre Club)


Francois Battiste, THE GOOD NEGRO (Public Theater)

Quincy Tyler Bernstine, RUINED (Manhattan Theatre Club)

Kevin T. Carroll, sustained excellence of performance

Saidah Arrika Ekulona, RUINED (Manhattan Theatre Club)

Jonathan Groff, PRAYER FOR MY ENEMY (Playwrights Horizons) and THE SINGING FOREST (Public Theater)

Birgit Huppuch, TELEPHONE (Foundry Theatre)

Russell Gebert Jones, RUINED (Manhattan Theatre Club)

Aaron Monaghan, THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN (Atlantic Theater Co.)

Sahr Ngaujah, FELA! (37 Arts)

Lorenzo Pisoni, HUMOR ABUSE (Manhattan Theatre Club)

James Sugg, CHEKHOV LIZARDBRAIN (Pig Iron Theatre Company)

John Douglas Thompson, OTHELLO (Theatre for a New Audience)

Music and Lyrics

Stephen Sondheim, ROAD SHOW (Public Theater)


David Cromer, OUR TOWN (Barrow Street Theatre)

Katie Mitchell, THE WAVES (National Theatre of Great Britain / Lincoln Center Great Performances "New Visions" Series)

Ken Rus Schmoll, TELEPHONE (Foundry Theatre)


Toni-Leslie James, sustained excellence of costume design (with special reference to WIG OUT, Vineyard Theatre)

David Korins, sustained excellence of set design (with special reference to WHY TORTURE IS WRONG, AND THE PEOPLE WHO LOVE THEM, Public Theater)

Special Citations

Sarah Benson (director) and Louisa Thompson (set designer), BLASTED (Soho Rep)

David Esbjornson (director) and Christian Camargo (actor), HAMLET (Theatre for a New Audience)

The Ross Wetzsteon Award (includes a cash prize of $2,000)

HERE Arts Center

OBIE Grants ($10,000 divided equally among three theaters)

The Chocolate Factory

The Classical Theatre of Harlem

Lark Play Development Center

(Read more)


"Tennessee Williams' play tears away the veils and masks to get to the heart of these characters. Which is exactly what you might say is a hallmark of Liv Ullmann's work (as both an actor and a director)." –Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton, Artistic Directors 

Sydney Theatre Company and UBS Investment Bank present


By Tennessee Williams

Director Liv Ullmann
Set Designer Ralph Myers
Costume Designer Tess Schofield
Lighting Designer Nick Schlieper
Sound Designer Paul Charlier
Assistant to the Director Einar Bjorge

Cate Blanchett, Michael Denkha, Joel Edgerton, Elaine Hudson, Gertraud Ingeborg, Morgan David Jones, Russell Kiefel, Jason Klarwein, Mandy McElhinney, Robin McLeavy, Tim Richards, Sara Zwangobani and musician Alan John

A Streetcar Named Desire*
By Tennessee Williams

Downtown New Orleans.  Blanche DuBois: a Southern Belle, a fading beauty, a passionate, fragile thing.

And she really is in the wrong place. All her respectability, politenesses and old-fashioned Southern airs and graces provoke the disdain of her sister Stella's husband. Stanley is a rough, modern man with a coarse sense of humour, no interest in manners and a wild streak.

Her flirting, primping and needy behaviour fix Stanley's determination to break Blanche and all she stands for. And then she wins the heart of his poker buddy, Mitch.

A Streetcar Named Desire is a compelling and sensuous play which features some of the most memorable characters in theatrical history.  The battle between Blanche and Stanley comes to embody nothing less than the battle between tradition and progress itself.  The quasi-aristocratic world of plantations, mint juleps and poetry at dusk going head to head with the emerging urban, industrial uberlith of the all-beer, all-poker New America.


* U.S. dates: Washington D.C.'s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, October 29-November 21; and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, November 27-December 20.



Sydney Theatre Company:

Sydney Theatre Company, as the premier theatre company in Australia, has been a major force in Australian drama since its establishment in 1978. The company presents an annual twelve-play program at its home base The Wharf, on Sydney's harbour at Walsh Bay, the nearby Sydney Theatre, which STC also manages, and as the resident theatre company of the Sydney Opera House. Current Artistic Directors, Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton joined the Company at the beginning of 2008.

Sydney Theatre Company offers Sydney audiences an eclectic program of Australian plays, lively interpretations of the classic repertoire and the best of new international writing. It seeks to produce theatre of the highest standard that consistently illuminates, entertains and challenges. It is committed to the engagement between the imagination of its artists and its audiences and the development of the theatrical art-form. As the state theatre company of NSW, it also produces a significant education program for schools and in its studio space produces work devised by, and for, developing artists, originating in 1987 with Baz Lurhmann's Six Years Old and, in its current identity, as Next Stage. The Company reaches beyond its home state, touring productions throughout Australia and internationally. It plays annually to audiences in excess of 300,000.

STC actively fosters relationships and collaborations with international artists and companies. Renowned directors Michael Blakemore, Max Stafford-Clark, Howard Davies, Declan Donnellan and Philip Seymour Hoffman have worked with STC in recent years and in 2009 Liv Ullmann and Steven Soderbergh will direct for the Company. STC has presented productions by Complicite, Cheek by Jowl, Out-of-Joint and the National Theatre of Great Britain. In 2001 STC performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York with its production of The White Devil, returned in 2006 with its production of Hedda Gabler and will return again in 2009 with its production of A Streetcar Named Desire which will also tour to Washington. Other STC productions to tour internationally in the last few years include The Cherry Pickers (UK 2002), Riflemind (UK 2008) and Blackbird (NZ, Germany 2008).

STC has launched and fostered the theatre careers of many of Australia's internationally renowned artists including Mel Gibson, Judy Davis, Hugo Weaving, Miranda Otto, Geoffrey Rush, Toni Collette, Rose Byrne and Cate Blanchett.

In 2006 STC launched its first acting ensemble, The Actors Company, which, over three years, has performed an extraordinary range of repertoire including award-winning productions of Mother Courage & Her Children, The Season at Sarsaparilla, The Lost Echo and Gallipoli. The Wars of the Roses is the final Actors Company production and later in 2009, STC will introduce its new ensemble of theatre-makers The Residents who will perform right across the full range of the Company’s activities including Main Stage, Next Stage and STC Ed productions.



Scott Schechter, award-winning producer, journalist, author, Minnelli-Garland historian, and developer of Liza’s Web site,, died on May 14, in the late evening, of a heart attack.  He was 48.

For more than a quarter of a century, Schechter researched the lives of the famous mother and daughter, compiling, in a release last fall (among many others):  Liza Minnelli:  The Complete A&M Recordings. He was also the author of The Liza Minnelli Scrapbook (Kensington/Citadel Press, 2004), a lavishly illustrated volume, which included a foreword by Billy Stritch.  Minnelli said of the work, "All the other books about me are bullshit. This is the one that counts." Schechter’s Judy Garland: The Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Legend (Cooper Square Press, 2002, hardcover; Taylor Trade Publishing, 2006, paperback)  was called “A paean to Garland’s professionalism and talents” by Liz Smith; The Los Angeles Times stated, “Scott Schechter’s book not only chronicles her difficult life, but also proves how hard she worked to overcome obstacles. . . . Exhaustively researched”; and Robert Osborne of the Hollywood Reporter devoted an entire column to the book, raving, “Almost overwhelming in its detail, Schechter’s research is as thorough as a Nobel scientist. . . . It’s the most complete retrospective yet published on a celebrity.”

Schechter consulted or was interviewed as a Liza Minnelli or Judy Garland authority on shows such as NBC’S Dateline, ABC’s 20/20, Good Morning America, AMC’s Behind the Screen, and E!  Entertainment Television’s True Hollywood Story.  The latter, of which Schechter was a consulting producer, was honored with a Gracie Award and nominated for a Prism Award for best TV documentary.  E!’s 2002 tribute to Liza Minnelli was named “E!’s True Hollywood Story of the Year.”  Scott also contributed to the 2004 A&E Biography on Minnelli.

Schechter’s much-praised liner notes, essays, and CD projects on Minnelli, Garland, and others include, Judy (four CD box set); Judy at Carnegie Hall (complete and uncut); Classic Judy Garland–The Capitol Years (1955-1965); Miss Show Business/Judy and Judy: That’s Entertainment/I could Go On Singing; Judy in Love/Alone; Engelbert Humperdinck: You Belong to My Heart; Liza Minnelli: Ultimate Collection; and The Judy Garland Show:  The Show That Got Away.

In 1998 Schechter was one of the people instrumental in bringing Garland’s entire long-lost 1963-1964 TV series, The Judy Garland Show to DVD format.   

Schechter’s tribute magazine, Garlands for Judy was begun in 1995 and many know of—and belong to–his Official Liza Minnelli yahoo group (which Liza and her people follow).

We love you Scott.  May you rest in peace.


(Feingold, Nightingale, and the London Times review from 1955 on Waiting for Godot.)



Godot's Worth the Weight, The Philanthropist Donates Little, 9 to 5 Shows More Heart Than Art

By Michael Feingold

Tuesday, May 12th 2009 at 3:18pm

The Norman Conquests as three, eight Broadway shows opened just before the Tony nominations' cutoff date. This manic pileup carried a surprisingly un-Broadwayish weightiness. After Ayckbourn's rotating-repertory trio came Desire Under the Elms and Waiting for Godot, two somber modernist works that Broadway never wholly learned to love, and two relatively obscure light-comic antiques, 1934's Accent on Youth and 1971's The Philanthropist, refitted for popular male stars of today. Of the eight openings, the only one resembling 2009 Broadway business as usual was 9 to 5, yet another musical version of a not-quite-forgotten film.

Of the lot, Waiting for Godot (Roundabout Studio 54) undoubtedly qualifies as the most notable event, both as the best piece of writing on the list and by dint of Anthony Page's relatively solid, sane production. Godot has not been an uncommon sight in New York since its Broadway premiere in 1956. There have been at least half a dozen Off-Broadway productions, including two editions of Beckett's own staging and the post-Katrina version with which the Classical Theatre of Harlem created a stir a few years ago. Studied everywhere and a known quantity to most theater artists, the play is remote only from Broadway's recent experience.


Waiting for Godot
By Samuel Beckett
Roundabout Studio 54
254 West 54th Street, 212-719-1300

From The Times

May 7, 2009

Waiting for Godot, Theatre Royal Haymarket 

In its 55-year history Waiting for Godot has attracted some striking and even startling actors. The American premiere of Beckett’s play was a disaster, thanks to the producers’ decision to advertise it as “the laugh sensation of two continents”, give a leading role to Bert Lahr, aka the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, and present the result to bewildered audiences in Miami. Myself, I’ve seen other comedians prove a lot more successful as the tramps Vladimir and Estragon: Robin Williams and Steve Martin in New York, Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson here. But last night the appeal to popular taste moved from the comics to the comic books.

For fans of the movies based on those books, Sean Mathias’s revival will doubtless go down as the X-Men Godot, with Professor Xavier onstage with his foe, leader of the Brotherhood of the Mutants, evil Magneto. And why not, if it introduces new audiences to the play that a National Theatre poll rated as the greatest of the 20th century?

But Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen happen also to be superb classic actors — and they proved it with performances that were at once subtle and commanding, touching and funny, vulnerable and dignified and just about everything we could expect Vladimir and Estragon to be . . .

Waiting for Godot at the Haymarket, London SW1, on April 30,, 0845 4811870

First London Review of Waiting for Godot in the Times, 1955:

The dramatic instinct reveals itself in a flow of unexpected, absorbing happen- ings upon the stage. But a play is something more-it is the flow gradually emerging as some significant image of life. Mr. Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot, now to be seen at the Arts Theatre in a brilliant production by Mr. Peter Hall, insists that these truisms shall be restated. That Mr. Beckett-an Irishman who lives in Paris and-writes for preference in French -possesses the dramatic instinct in a most original sense one cannot doubt. His work in two acts holds the stage most wittily, but is it a play ? Its significance-and how, one feels, Mr. Beckett must abjure the word-would seem to be that nothing finally is significant. Two tramps stand near a tree on a derelict country road waiting for Godot. One, played by Mr. Paul Daneman, manifests a sense of responsibility, a sense of the desperate necessity of their waiting, that gives him a certain threadbare dignity; the other (Mr. Peter Woodthorpe) is a whimper- ing grotesque all for deserting or suicide by hanging. The dialogue between them is a meandering essay in the inconsequential: if Kafka had tried to write a music hall sketch for two clowns it might perhaps have struck a similar note. The identity of Godot, the source of his power, are of course never made explicit though there are some carefully placed remarks about a savior.  While the tramps' buffoonery and cross- questioning continues what we do feel pal- pably is a sense of the passing of time that has been lived. This is interrupted by the outrageous appearance of a portly, prosper- pus-looking farming gentleman, who is lead- tng on a rope an ancient servant (Mr. Timothy Bateson) foaming at the mouth, tethered by his neck, and bent low by the burden of his master's suitcase, hamper, and stool. The master, played by Mr. Peter Bull, is not Godot-he is Pozzo. He represents a bullying authority that occasionally breaks down into floods of childish tears; but it is an authority none the less and as such it gives the tramps a flicker of hope. They temporarily forget Godot. At this point Mr. Beckett would seem to be hinting at some profound interpretation of the relation between master and servant, but, no doubt deliberately, this is in the event never clarified. A futile message from Godot, brought in a rather moving little scene by a boy, rounds off the act. On the next evening everything is repeated with a difference. Pozzo has gone blind and hence is led by his servant who is dumb. The tramps' memories begin to fail. The small boy reappears, but not Godot. The tree has sprouted leaves. The thoroughbred Irish intelligence of much of Mr. Beckett's dialogue and his power of theatrical invention force one to take his fantasy seriously, but it remains a fantasy. His patiently elemental per- sonages are figments in whom we cannot ultimately believe since they lack universality. They are, though, remarkably well played in this production. Mr. Daneman and Mr. Woodthorpe invest the tramps with grandeur. Mr. Bull gives a rich portrait of a weeping blusterer, and Mr. Bateson as a pathetic mute has one terrifying monologue.


(Jacqueline Trescott's article appeared in The Washington Post, May 14, 2009.)


Obama Set on Broadway's Landesman For NEA Head


President Obama yesterday announced his intention to nominate Rocco Landesman, a major player in the commercial theater world, to head the National Endowment for the Arts.

Landesman, a theater owner and producer, has brought many of the past decade's biggest hits to Broadway, including the Tony Award winners "Jersey Boys," "Into the Woods," "The Producers" and "Proof." He produced Tony Kushner's landmark "Angels in America." And he is backing the current revival of the Tony-nominated "Hair."

A native of St. Louis, Landesman, 61, is president of Jujamcyn Theaters, owner of five Broadway theaters.

The appointment, first reported in yesterday's New York Times, was immediately read as a way to re-energize the agency, founded in 1965 and the largest supporter of arts in the country. Last week, the White House asked Congress to give the NEA $161.3 million in 2010, the highest request in recent years. The agency funnels grant money to almost every corner of the country and is credited with stabilizing the infrastructure of many arts organizations, though the economic turmoil has hit the nonprofit arts world extremely hard.

Landesman's reputation as a fighter, if not always a diplomatic one, pleased arts supporters in very different worlds.

Steven D. Lavine, the president of the California Institute of the Arts and a member of an arts advisory committee during the Obama campaign, said: "It's a wonderful appointment. He will be persuasive and fight for the arts. I don't know if he will be diplomatic, but I only know him by reputation." The first thing he'd put on the NEA chairman's to-do list would be to "rebuild the individual artists' grants," which were taken away by Congress during the cultural wars of the 1990s.

Oskar Eustis, artistic director of the Public Theater, the groundbreaking organization in New York, said the announcement took him by surprise. "I was absolutely flabbergasted. For the theater community, it is the most concrete evidence of Obama's brilliance," Eustis said. Landesman, he said, initiated the move of "Hair" from the Public Theater to Broadway. "He told me for years he didn't like the play," said Eustis, but was converted by the new staging. "He is a man who doesn't recognize categories. You are talking about a man who earned a doctorate from Yale, then had a private investment company, then went to Broadway producing, and is a dyed-in-the-wool St. Louis Cardinals fan, for some unfathomable reason."

Robert Lynch, the president of the Americans for the Arts, a major lobbying group, said he found the selection "exciting." "He seems to be a bold decision-maker," said Lynch, noting Landesman's controversial statements about the eroding line between nonprofit and for-profit theaters. He also noted Landesman's diverse interests: "He's a producer and likes country music."

And Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who co-chairs the Congressional Arts Caucus, called the choice "bold" and said she enjoyed meeting Landesman at the spoken-word event at the White House on Tuesday night. "He knows the power that arts can have in our lives and the role that musicians, artists and theater has played in our nation's culture," Slaughter said in a statement.

Landesman gave $2,300 to Obama's presidential campaign. He declined to discuss his appointment. His assistant said he "was under quarantine from the White House."

Although known for high-profile, and risky, commercial deals, Landesman was originally trained in the not-for-profit world. A graduate of Colby College and the University of Wisconsin, he earned his doctorate at the Yale School of Drama. He taught at Yale for four years. He became president of Jujamcyn in 1987 and company owner in 2005. He drew attention by being the first to charge $100 for a Broadway ticket, in 2001 for "The Producers."

In New York, he has been active with several education and city improvement groups, including the Times Square Alliance, which spearheaded the revival and cleanup of that district. Other productions of his that have won Tony Awards include "Big River," "Guys and Dolls," "Sweeney Todd," "Nine," "Kiss Me, Kate" and "Death of a Salesman."

This is not the first time the NEA has received a jolt from Broadway. Jane Alexander, the acclaimed actress, served as President Bill Clinton's first chairman of the agency. Landesman would succeed Dana Gioia, an award-winning poet, who resigned in January.

The Senate has to approve the nomination.

(Go to the article in The Washington Post:







(Wall appeared in The New York Review of Books 4/30. Berlin/Wall opens, starring David Hare, at the Public Theater 5/14/09 for five performances only.)  

Wall: A Monologue

By David Hare

All right. Let's be serious, let's think about this.

Please, please: consider the state of affairs, consider the desperation, consider the depth of the despair. A country has reached a point at which 84 percent of its people are in favor of building a wall along its borders.

Have you ever known anything of which 84 percent of people were in favor? And yet there it is, over four fifths of a nation—can you imagine that figure?—saying something completely bizarre. The Berlin Wall was built to keep people in. This one, they say, is being built to keep people out.

You might call this an extraordinary state of affairs. Hardly a normal state of affairs. And that's the word you hear all the time in the Middle East. "Normal." The Palestinians ask, "When will we have a normal life?" And so do the Israelis. Indeed, the Israeli state was founded in 1948 with the principal ambition of being normal, of being a normal place like any other. The Palestinians call the foundation of the Israeli state the nakbeh: the disaster. And now sixty years later Israel believes itself, in the frequently expressed view of the majority, in need of a wall.

Except, of course, they don't call it a wall. They call it a fence.

It's one of those things, there seem to be so many, don't there?—I'm thinking of abortion, or armed revolt—where the words you use—pro-life/pro-choice, terrorist/freedom fighter—tell the world which way you think. Words become flags, they announce which side you're on. In this case, literally. The Israelis call it the gader ha'harfrada, which in Hebrew means "separation fence." The Palestinians don't call it that. Not at all. They call it jidar al-fasl al-'unsuri, which in Arabic means "racial segregation wall."

OK, let's go coolly into this, shall we? If I use one word or the other, forgive me, it does not imply I am partisan. I have acquaintances on both sides of the fence and on both sides of the wall. "I hate the wall," say my Israeli friends. "I regret it." "I'm ashamed of the wall." "I drive for miles so that I don't have to see it. But it works. 80 percent of terrorist attacks against Israel have stopped. Have been stopped. Am I not meant to be pleased about that?"

Very well. I shall seek to describe the history of the wall.

On June 1, 2001, nine months into the second intifada, a Palestinian suicide bomber named Saeed Hotari crossed into Israel from the West Bank, and exploded himself at the entrance to the Dolphinarium discotheque on the beach in Tel Aviv, killing twenty-one civilians, most of them high school students. A further 132 people were injured. In response to the massacre, a grassroots movement grew up all over Israel calling itself Fence for Life. They argued, as Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had argued ten years earlier, that the only way of protecting the country from infiltration by terrorists was by sealing itself off from the Palestinian territories, by removing the points of friction between the two communities. But separation would not be a purely military tactic. No, before he was murdered by a fellow Israeli, Rabin had been arguing something much more radical. "We have to decide on separation as a philosophy."

There it is. Not just a wall. A wall would be a fact. But this wall is a philosophy, what one observer has called "a political code for shutting up shop."

Construction began in 2002. The original plan was that the fence should stretch a full 486 miles, the entire length of Israel's eastern border. The current estimate for its completion is some-time around the end of 2010. Varying in width between 30 and 150 meters, this $2 billion combination of trenches, electronic fences, ditches, watchtowers, concrete slabs, checkpoints, patrol roads, and razor coil is priced at around $2 million per kilometer. Some seventy-five acres of greenhouses and twenty-three miles of irrigation pipes have already been destroyed on the Palestinian side. More than 3,700 acres of Palestinian land have been confiscated, some of it so that the wall may run yards away from Palestinian hamlets and villages. Already, 102,000 trees have been cut down to clear its path.

It is, says an Israeli friend, an acknowledgment of failure. "History has not followed the course we might have wished." Another way of putting it, later the same evening, after a few drinks in one of the big beachside hotels that are beginning to make the Bauhaus quarter of Tel Aviv look like Florida: "You do have to ask yourself: I'm not sure Ben-Gurion would be thrilled."

From the start the exact route has been controversial. The most obvious path for it to have followed would have been along the international border, established in 1949 between Israel and Jordan, and known to all parties as the Green Line. But in fact, 85 percent of its intended route is inside the West Bank. The fence snakes and coils, departing eastward from the Green Line in places by just two hundred meters, but in other places by as much as twenty-two kilometers where it goes inland to collect up and protect Israeli settlements established far inside the occupied territory. Sometimes it takes in fertile Palestinian agricultural land and water wells, leaving Palestinian farmers without access to their own fields. Some 140,200 Israeli settlers will be living between the fence and the Green Line. 93,000 Palestinians will be caught on the wrong side of the wall.

For that reason the fence is seen by its opponents not as what it claims to be—a security measure—but more as a land grab, the delineation of a de facto claim, an attempt, like the steady expansion of the Israeli-controlled parts of Jerusalem, to do what is known as "change the facts on the ground." At the outset of the campaign, supporters of Fence for Life insisted that the wall should be a barrier, not a border. It was not to be used as a bargaining tactic in any future negotiation for a final status agreement. But even Israelis have found this intention hard to credit. Before he left office, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert admitted that had he survived in the job he would have sought to set Israeli permanent borders by 2010—and that the border "would run along or close to the barrier."

Even the most ardent supporters of the fence admit that it is, like the blockade of Gaza, a source of huge inconvenience to Palestinians. But they argue, in the words of one defender, that "the deaths of Israelis caused by terror are permanent and irreversible, whereas the hardships faced by the Palestinians are temporary and reversible." The International Court of Justice in The Hague had a different view. On July 9, 2004, it ruled 14–1 that

the construction of a wall being built by Israel, the occupying power, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory…[is] contrary to international law. Israel is under an obligation…to cease forthwith the works of construction,…to dismantle forthwith the structures therein situated,…to make reparation for all the damage caused by the construction of the wall….

Professor Sari Nusseibeh of Al-Quds University puts it most pithily:

It's like sticking someone in a cage and then when he starts screaming, as any normal person would, using his violent temper as justification for putting him in the cage in the first place. The wall is the perfect crime because it creates the violence it was ostensibly built to prevent . . .

(Read more)

David Hare on director Stephen Daldry (interview on You Tube):

For tickets:,com_shows/task,view/Itemid,141/id,965

(An excerpt from David Hare's work appears in Duo!: The Best Plays for Two for the 21st Century due out from Applause Theatre and Cinema Books in August.


Each week the expert staff of the renowned Drama Book Shop in Manhattan, just seconds away from Broadway, recommends one play that's new, interesting, or just flat-out fantastic. This week they’ve chosen two! Picking the best of published work, they help keep us up to date and aware of the little known, broadening our horizons and encouraging dialogue. Order a play from The Drama Book Shop, read it, and e-mail them with your thoughts–they'd love to hear from you:


Vincent in Brixton by Nicholas Wright and Inventing Van Gogh by Steven Dietz

It is nothing new to say that Vincent van Gogh was a complex, greatly troubled man. But these two plays look deeply into Van Gogh at two different stages and together compliment, enrich, and bring to life Vincent, the human.

Vincent in Brixton by British playwright Nicholas Wright focuses on Vincent before he drew his first sketch. It depicts a young man, someone full of life yet struggling to find his way and to walk the artist's path. While living in a boarding house, Vincent develops a relationship with a troubled older woman named Ursula. Wright understands that the most important aspect of a relationship between people, or even painter and art, is the shared experience of the soul. In Vincent in Brixton, he uses Van Gogh’s experiences with Ursula to illustrate this point; it is she who inspires Vincent to live and to paint with passion.

In the preface of Inventing Van Gogh, American playwright Steven Dietz quotes Van Gogh himself: Exaggerate the essential; leave the obvious vague. Dietz then applies this idea to the structure and setting of the play, which shifts fluidly between the 1880s – the later years of Van Gogh’s life – and the present day – where a modern painter struggles to forge a copy of the master’s final self-portrait. Dietz's Van Gogh takes Wright's depiction to the next level: his Van Gogh is dramatically troubled, bursting at the seams, and begging for life to come off of the page. In Inventing Van Gogh, both the artist’s contemporaries and present-day art enthusiasts agree: Van Gogh, a man obsessed with painting his own image, was searching for some greater connection to the soul.

Taken together, these plays have made me obsessed with Vincent Van Gogh. Inventing Van Gogh is incredibly theatrical and dramatic, especially in how Dietz handles the suicide (I'll say no more). Vincent in Brixton is beautifully sensual and touching. Both have left me craving more, wanting to fully understand the man who created a unique form of painting. Though these portraits indicate how hard it might be to obtain that goal, I have not been as inspired from reading a play recently as I have by these two.

Characters: Vincent in Brixton: 2 M, 3 W. Inventing Van Gogh: 4 M, 1 W.(mid to late 20's)

Scenes/Monologues: Wonderful scenes and monologues in both plays!

Recommended by: Abi

Vincent in Brixton
(Nick Hern Books)

by Wright, Nicholas
Format:  Trade Paperback
Price:  $18.95
Published: Nick Hern Books, 2003
Inventory Status: Usually Ships in 1-5 days 

A dramatization of the time that Van Gogh spent in Brixton in the 1870s-a period before he became a painter and one that changed him completely. Vincent develops a rapport with a widow twice his age, which blossoms into a full-blown love affair, only to be cruelly curtailed by the arrival of his fiercely puritan young sister. From the author "of Cressida, Mrs. Klein, " and the recent adaptation of Wedekind's "Lulu."


Inventing Van Gogh

(Paperback)  by Steven Dietz


PLAY (Drama, Full Length). THE STORY: A haunting and hallucinatory drama about the making of art, INVENTING VAN GOGH is the story of the final van Gogh self-portrait, painted just before the artist's death, which has never been seen?until now. Patrick Stone, a contemporary painter, is hired to forge this final masterpiece?and finds himself squaring off, across the years, with van Gogh himself. The result is a compelling mystery about the obsession to create and the fine line that separates truth from myth. Cast: 4 men, 1 woman: 5 total

Product Details

Publisher : Dramatists Play Service
Published : 02/01/2004
Format : Paperback 
ISBN-10 : 0822219549
ISBN-13 : 9780822219545

The Drama Book Shop, Inc.
250 W. 40th St.
New York, NY 10018
Tel: (212) 944-0595
Fax: (212) 730-8739

  Order online:


(The following article by Jesse Oxfeld appeared in New York Magazine 5/11/09.  Berlin/Wall opens at the Public Theater 5/14/09 for five performances only.


Playwright David Hare on Berlin, Wall, and Common Lines Between Israelis and Palestinians

The playwright David Hare, whose 1999 one-man show Via Dolorosa considered life in Israel and the West Bank, separately debuted two new monologues in London earlier this year: Berlin, a meditation on the German capital twenty years after its wall came down, and Wall, about the barrier going up between Israel and the Palestinian territories. He’ll perform them together for the first time in five performances at the Public Theater this month. He spoke to Vulture from London about what separates the two walls, performing for many different nationalities, and emotionally conflicted Israelis.

You told the Evening Standard that you’re pairing Berlin and Wall because it seemed like a cute idea. I suspect your decision wasn’t quite that glib.
It’s just the comparison is so extraordinary. One wall went up to keep people in, the other one is being put up to keep people out. In both cases these walls are philosophical statements as well as security measures. The wall that is going up now is three different things. It’s a security measure, yes. It’s also potentially a border. And thirdly, [Yitzhak] Rabin, who is the first person who ever thought of the wall, said we have to decide on separation as a philosophy. The experiment of trying to make Israel a country like any other is over. Now we’re gonna make ourselves a separate place. Because it’s all three things, it’s fantastically complicated, and that obviously seems like a very rich thing to be writing about.

Is it designed to be an implication that it’s really a successor to the Berlin Wall?
No, absolutely not. I don’t say that. Though, obviously, the Palestinians do spray it with poster paint, and with slogans. And there is art going up on the Israel/Palestine wall, which is indeed to remind any visitor of the analogy. The Palestinians want to make that analogy, obviously. I don’t make that analogy . . .  

(Read more)

David Hare on director Stephen Daldry (You Tube interview):


Written and Performed by DAVID HARE


MAY 14—MAY 17 



FROM THE WRITER AND DIRECTOR OF THE READER.  In two contrasted readings for the stage, David Hare visits a place where a famous wall has come down; then another where a wall is going up.

Both Berlin and Wall will be presented at each performance.

For his whole adult life, David Hare has been visiting the city which so many young people regard as the most exciting in Europe. But there’s something in Berlin’s elusive character that makes him feel he’s always missing the point. Now, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the wall, Hare reads a 55-minute meditation about Germany’s restored capital—both what it represents in European history and the peculiar part it has played in his own life.

The Israeli/Palestine security fence will one day stretch 486 miles, from one end of Israel to the other. It will be four times as long as the Berlin wall, and in places twice as high. In this second monologue, Hare offers a history of the wall’s building, an exploration of the philosophy behind it and a personal account of those who live on either side.

Running time: 2 hrs. including one intermission


Thursday, May 14 at 7pm
Friday, May 15 at 7pm
Saturday, May 16 at 7pm
Sunday, May 17 at 1pm & 7pm

NEWLY EXPANDED RUSH TIX: A limited number of $20 Rush Tickets will be available at the box office on sale to the general public one hour prior to curtain, subject to availability. There is a 2 ticket limit per person. Cash Only.

(Info and tickets:),com_shows/task,view/Itemid,141/id,965