I am not, to say the least, a theater critic, though my wife and my oldest daughter, who is in the business, drag me to a lot of plays. My usual test of a play’s quality is whether it keeps me awake. Most fail. Israeli playwright Motti Lerner’s new play, The Admission, which is being staged in Washington DC, kept me awake.
It’s about an Israeli Jewish and an Arab family in Haifa during the first Intifada. The patriarch of the Jewish family, Avigdor, has funded a restaurant run by the son of the Arab family, which has lost its Jewish customers. He also financed the graduate education of the Arab family’s daughter, who had had an affair with Avigdor’s son, who is a business professor and who is now engaged to a Jewish woman who works for his father’s business. But a story that at first glance seems to be about love and business turns into a dark tragedy about the conflict between Arab and Jew growing out of the 1948 war. It is triggered by the claim of the Arab father, Ibrahim, that Avigdor was the commander of the Israeli forces that either killed or expelled the residents of the village outside of Haifa where Ibrahim and his family lived. If there is a lesson from The Admission, it is a very simple one: that what was triumph for the Jewish people was a catastrophe for Palestine’s Arabs, and that the hope for reconciliation lies in the recognition of triumph and tragedy.
There is no talk in the play of abolishing Israel, only of establishing a memorial to the Arabs who died in the village alongside a memorial to Avigdor’s other son Udi who died during the Yom Kippur War. But when Theater J in Washington DC, which is a project of the Washington DC Jewish Community Center, announced last year it was going to put on a 34-performance production of the play, a suburban DC based group, The Committee Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art (COPMA), headed by a Potomac personal injury lawyer Robert Samet, attacked it. COPMA urged donors to withdraw their contributions to the Jewish Community Center if the play, which it described as a “blood libel,” was produced. “Your Jewish charity dollars are being used to finance theatrical productions that attack and defame Israel. It must stop,” COPMA declared.
Sad to say, COPMA and Samet partially succeeded. According to the theater’s artistic director, donors threatened to withhold some $250,000 in contributions. Theater J scaled back the production’s run to 16 performances as a “workshop” version that did not include a full set and appropriate dress. But after the play, which doesn’t suffer at all from a bare set, received a glowing and entirely deserved review from the Washington Post’s theater critic, and after an enthusiastic response from its first audiences, the Studio Theater agreed to host it for an additional three-week run. It ends this weekend. If you live in Washington DC, go see it. It’s a good play, and by going, you’ll also strike a blow at Samet and his self-appointed censors.