Two playwrights, acting independently - one in the United States and one in Britain; one Jewish and one gentile - have coincidentally penned theatrical responses to British dramatist Caryl Churchill's controversial Seven Jewish Children: A play for Gaza, a 10-minute play which has divided critics and attracted allegations of anti-Semitism since it debuted at London's Royal Court Theater in February.
New York playwright Israel Horovitz said he had penned a new short play entitled What Strong Fences Make because "another voice needed to be heard" in the wake of Churchill's "offensive, distorted and manipulative" presentation.
British author and actor Richard Stirling said he had penned Seven Other Children using Churchill's format and vernacular "to provide necessary context to a vital debate" after Churchill's play caused "such disquiet and anger."
Stirling's play is to be performed by a cast of nine, matching the Royal Court number, for two weeks in May at the New End Theater in London's Hampstead neighborhood. A press release for the play states that "the tragedy of the situation in Gaza is anything but one-sided or sectarian." RELATEDWhy I wrote 'What Strong Fences Make'
It adds that Seven Other Children was written "not in its own right, but to show a dimension overlooked by recent plays on the subject: the tragedy of the Palestinian child as victim of a distorted education about Israel, and the crescendo of hate that continues to grow."
Churchill has said that anyone may produce her play free of charge provided they hold a collection at the end for the people of Gaza. A charitable collection will be made at the end of Stirling's Seven Other Children, the press release states, "provisionally scheduled in support of OneVoice, the international mainstream grassroots movement that puts pressure on politicians of both sides to conclude a two-state solution guaranteeing an end to occupation and violence (www.onevoicemovement.org)."
Veteran dramatist Horovitz said he had originally been approached some months ago, when Churchill's play was first offered to theaters world-wide via the internet, by Ari Roth, Artistic Director of Theater J in Washington, DC, to write a response. "Mr. Roth was about to produce Seven Jewish Children, and asked me to read the Churchill play and write what he called 'a response piece,'" Horovitz said.
"On reading Ms. Churchill's play, which I found to be offensive - distorted and manipulative - my initial reaction was to not respond," he added, "certainly not to create a 'competing' play to be shown in the same evening as the Churchill play. And so I stayed silent."
On reflection, however, "a few weeks after Churchill's play had come and gone from Theater J, I felt another voice needed to be heard."
He described What Strong Fences Make, which is set at an IDF military checkpoint just outside Ramallah, as "a simple and clear stage-play that attempts to make a statement about a real-life situation that is anything but simple and clear."
His take, he said, "most definitely" reflected a different point of view from Churchill's, and one that was "certainly no less valid."
Horovitz said he was "well aware that I am an American, living thousands of miles away from the profound moral dilemma that Israelis must face each and every day of their lives. But, I am very much a Jew, and, as a writer who spends nearly as much time in Paris and London as I do in NYC, I am angered by the rise in anti-Semitism.
"It is possible to criticize Israel without being anti-Semitic, as it is possible to criticize Palestine without being anti-Arab. Those who criticize Jews in the name of criticizing Israel, as Ms. Churchill seems to have done in her play, step over an unacceptable boundary and must be taken to task."
Horovitz said Theater J had agreed to make his play available to theaters worldwide via its Web site (at www.theaterj.org, then click on "Middle East Festival") and that any theater wishing to translate and produce this play could do so, royalty free. "But, he added, "I ask that a collection be taken among audience members and a donation be made to One Family Fund (www.onefamilyfund.org), a charity offering aid to children wounded in attacks on Israel. (One Family Fund aids Israeli-Jews, Israeli-Arabs, Israeli-Druse, Israeli-Beduin, and children of diplomats living in Israel.)"