Reading Hebron, Orange Tree Theatre: review

View of Hebronby Jason Sherman
Directed by: Sam Walters

A corduroy-clad academic, is poring over a thesis on the Israel/Palestine conflict. Suddenly, he loses patience and sweeps all his papers off the desk. I recognised the frustration. This is exactly how I felt during Sam Walters’ production of Reading Hebron: an over-complicated, unthinking, scrappy piece of theatre.

The premise of Jason Sherman’s play – I would not go so far as to say it has a plot – is that we follow Nathan Abramowitz, a very British Jew, as he tries to learn more about the 1994 Hebron massacre. A Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein, opened fire on a group of Palestinians who were praying at the Tomb of the Patriarchs (a holy site for both Muslims and Jews). We watch Abramowitz as he wrestles with his conscience and imagines he can solve the whole conflict in the time it takes to go through the ritual of seder (Passover meal).

David Antrobus takes the central role of Nathan, the disenfranchised, guilt-ridden, basically secular Jew. Antrobus tries to make Nathan both naïve and jaded, his default expression is wide-eyed earnestness and the result is supremely irritating. He has a couple of good lines: when he’s asked why he reads the New York Times each morning, for example, he replies “I like to start my mornings with the big lies – it makes the little lies a bit more palatable”. But Antrobus just has one setting: angst, which begins to grate almost immediately. Esther Ruth Elliott gets a few laughs as Nathan’s very Jewish mother but Peter Guinness is the only member of the cast who really brings drama to Sherman’s script.

The problem is that the play has neither a narrative nor a point to make. Sherman seems to have set out to write a controversial play about the conflict but then backed out. In one scene Noam Chomsky and Cynthia Ozick (an American writer) express their respective – controversial, intelligent – views on the conflict but Sherman frames it in some sort of stand-up competition complete, in Walters staging, with disco ball and loud music.

Walters directs the piece swiftly – as if in the hope the audience won’t notice its lack of coherence. The one moment of dramatic tension is an argument between Nathan, his ex-wife and his new girlfriend – but here, as elsewhere, confusion reigns as we are unsure what is real and what is taking part in Nathan’s imagination.

I am no expert in this area of international politics, but I learnt nothing from the play. Several positions are skimmed over, stereotypes raised and although an interesting angle is occasionally glimpsed on the horizon, it doesn’t make it as far as the stage. This is a dull, scatty, half-heartedly controversial play which doesn’t even begin to tackle its subject matter.

This review first appeared on The Public Reviews

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    • Gayle Wood
    • February 14th, 2011

    Yes. The dizzying speed left me feeling rather nauseus(sic) at times, A lot of ground was covered but we didn’t get very far.

  1. February 28th, 2011

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