Saturday, March 7, 2009

"Collateral Damage" (my AMERICAN THEATRE article)

The full text of my AMERICAN THEATRE magazine article submitted for the March 2009 issue (the published version was edited down by about half due to space limitations and renamed "The Way Israel Lives Now"):

Collateral Damage

Hillel Mittelpunkt’s 2003 hit-and-run play, The Accident, at Theatre J in Washington, DC, Feb. 4-Mar. 8, reflects the same kind of interest in the moral dilemmas of contemporary Israeli life as his more recent work Goodbye, Africa! The latter focused on an ill-fated return to Uganda by Israeli diplomats years after their ill-fated pas-de-deux with Idi Amin.

The Accident is about that brand of intelligencia that self-consciously violates the high moral ground it claims. Drunk driver Lior and the car’s owner Adam are goaded into fleeing the scene of an unobserved fatal crash by Lior’s wife Tami—they’re too important to be derailed by this unfortunate event, and the victim was, after all, only a Chinese, probably an undocumented worker.

While a sordid melodrama plays out over Tami sleeping with Adam at a conference and Lior sleeping with Adam’s daughter Shiri on a business trip, Lior is pitching some eurocracy on a brand he represents: “I buy Bumper, which means that I support a new world order, a human society devoid of national conflict. I buy Bumper jeans, shoes, sun-glasses, go to their restaurants, listen to their music channel; in short, I buy the Logo, because I support a global village in which Israeli and Palestinian children will dance together wearing Bumper shoes at a Bono concert rocking for a better world and a Beautiful Day.”

He knows he’s failed, though: “with the latest from Gaza, our competitor’s proposals sound much saner than ours” and he cites projects uniting Catholics & Protestants in Northern Ireland, Serbs & Croats in the Balkans, whites & blacks in South Africa.

Meanwhile, Adam, a documentary filmmaker, busily pitches his own project: “Four regular soldiers are mistreating an old Arab peasant at a roadblock. They make him bray like a donkey; they make him spread out his merchandise and then shit on it; they make him execute military drills in the sun. He faints, they pour water on him and force him to go through this routine one more time. The next day he dies. The family claims that he died from humiliation and a broken heart. The army claims that humiliation and a broken heart are not acceptable pathological findings. An investigation is held. One of the soldiers confesses and describes in detail what happened that day at the roadblock. The soldiers are found guilty to varying degrees. The soldier who confesses returns to his military unit, is humiliated, abused and then ostracized. A week later he shoots himself in the head.”

Adam’s project moves forward—but it is the military that finances it.

The sole whiff of redemption wafts our way when we learn that Shiri is in China doing humanitarian work with the family of the hit and run victim (who know nothing about her connection)—a hopeful thought, perhaps, that the next generation will be less prone to moral equivocation.

About its U.S. production, Mittelpunkt says, “This play isn’t about us Israelis (though it was when it was shown here). This play is about you--in a situation where your moral standards conflict with your ambition to live your life the way you wanted to. Will you create in your mind an alternate moral system, one which will rid you of the need to face these questions?”

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