Israel. Palestine. Place them next to each other and you get controversy, tension and conflict. And this is exactly what Jason Sherman wants to highlight in Reading Hebron, a story about the fight between Judaism and Islam, and where the boundaries between right and wrong get blurred.
I entered the Orange Tree with no prior knowledge about the Hebron Massacre of 25 February 1994; I knew nothing of its impact both in Israel and for people around the world. In fact, I had never even heard of it before – something that I now feel saddened by after seeing Sherman’s play, originally produced in Canada in November of 1996.
David Antrobus’s energetic, almost boisterous entrance, announced from the first step that we were not merely there to observe, but to engage in his debate and build our own, slightly less informed, opinions. Though at times a little forced, his performance as Nathan Abramowitz was real, portraying him as a truly desperate man in search of his identity and discovering a world that he had been unaware of. He shared his confusion and frustration with the audience. He ended with a cry for answers that I cannot help but feel we never really reached. But this is fundamental to the piece, and director Sam Walters did well to obscure the shifts between reality and Abramowitz’s thoughts and expectations, forcing the audience to see the issue from every angle and share his paranoia.
Ben Nathan and Peter Guinness both provided phenomenal complexity as they played more than a dozen parts, each maintaining their own identity, thoughts and intricacy. Nathan created distinctive characters that could be easily identified on their reappearances later in the play. Guinness was solid throughout, at times holding the play together with a skill that was resonant of Patrick Stewart, and providing a subtle insight into the minds of the people, including Baruch Goldstein – a man who shot 29 Muslims when he was just 13. To jump between such extreme emotions and ideologies is a hard task, and one that Nathan and Guinness handled with real proficiency.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t help but feel let down by the two actresses in Reading Hebron. Amber Agha held each character portrayal to the purpose, undoubtedly, but did not provide a full enough picture to truly distinguish between them which, in such a complicated plot, was not beneficial for audience understanding. Esther Ruth Elliott struggled with the changing accents and was somehow uncertain of her position, especially next to Antrobus. They both managed their parts and fared well, but beside actors such as Nathan, I fear they fell by the wayside and became insignificant blips in the plotline.
The innovative direction, natural use of lighting as designed by John Harris, and stunning text from Jason Sherman, make Reading Hebron a thought-provoking, sometimes heart-wrenching declaration of human nature, big questions and a search for truth. In such a unique venue, I think that little shines brighter than work designed to make its audience feel uncomfortable and consider themselves, underscored by the intimacy of an in-the-round stage and provocative rhetoric. For those looking for an intellectual debate and to be taught some valuable but hard to swallow lessons, this play is a wonderful example of theatrical originality and academic thinking.
Reading Hebron is playing at the Orange Tree Theatre until 5th March. Tickets and information on their website.