Perhaps we are so used to seeing conflict in the Middle East that a play set in Israel in March 2002 could be construed as a theatrical work that displays nothing we haven’t seen before. To a certain extent this is true in Crossing Jerusalem. Gideon Kaufmann (David Ricardo-Pearce), a fit-and-he-knows-it man who spends a disproportionate amount of time on stage with no top on, does that thing in the second act where a man who has served in the armed forces regales stories of what happened when they were on active duty. Some details may or may not be embellished, but at the end of it all there is an emotional breakdown. Not even the wife, Yael (Adi Lerer) can console him.
There is, however, more to this production than war, war, war. The elder of two Muslim brothers, Yusuf Khallil (Waleed Elgadi), says it all when he says: “I don’t hate all Jews!” There are, I think, few plays that portray the lives of Jews, Christians and Muslims as people who might behave the same (certain cultural customs aside) if they were born in a different part of the world. These are people who strive to do better and make the best of the one life they have – Yusuf (the English equivalent of the name is ‘Joseph’), for instance, regrets he didn’t go off to Birzeit University to read Engineering.
The set is relatively sparse, with the emphasis being placed on the dialogue to set exact time and place: specificity in this regard has some importance, with the events of the entire play set in a 24 hour period from 8am one morning until 8am the next day.
Sergei Goldstein (Chris Spyrides) is the patriarch of the Jewish family. I do not recollect whether Varda (Trudy Weiss) is widowed or merely divorced from her first husband Mr Kaufmann; I suspect the former given the religious society in which the characters live, even though nobody in the play actually practises religion. Whichever, her children bear the name Kaufmann, and she herself goes by Varda Kaufmann-Goldman. Sergei has one punchline, and one only: “Sorry about that.” He is sorry for almost every point of discussion, from marriage to having an empty larder because recent bombings have made a trip to the supermarket too risky. It was amusing to begin with, but later became unfunny, and by the final scene downright irritating. A better script would have had Varda, a feisty type of Jewish lady (I would draw a comparison with the late comedian Joan Rivers) shout, “Stop that! Why are you always saying that? Stop saying sorry for everything and man up!” or words to that effect.
There is a bizarre solicitation for money from Yusuf, demanding money from Varda. He then contradicts himself, later privately telling Yael he doesn’t want the money – why bother asking for it then? The solicitation has a dramatic purpose, though, even if the narrative is somewhat lost, opening up a wider discussion about how far back one could hypothetically go in seeking reparations for mistakes of the past. Varda’s response is typically shrill and melodramatic: “Do I go back to the Middle Ages and ask for Crusader reparations? I should go ask the Pope?”
Both this scene in a restaurant and a later one, in Gideon and Yael’s apartment, are too long, and therefore the whole show feels like a test of endurance – it is even 15 minutes longer than the running time given by the theatre. Maybe the long drawn out scenes are a metaphor for the continuing Middle East conflict. Varda’s daughter Lee (Louisa Clein) has it right when she asks quite how many years the supposed ‘Six Day War’ must drag on for.
Things do not end happily. The final scene reminds the audience of how precious life is, and how loss and bereavement affects everyone, whatever their history or background. However, with all that shouting and aggravation between people who live in the same town, I felt as though I’d sat through the omnibus edition of EastEnders rather than an engrossing piece of theatre. An engaging cast, though, who do their very best with what they’re given.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Pascal Theatre Company presents Crossing Jerusalem by Julia Pascal
Jerusalem at the height of the last intifada. A wife wants to celebrate her 30th birthday. A husband does not want to have a son. A businesswoman wants to sell an apartment block. A daughter wants to shock her mother. A brother wants to kill soldiers. A soldier wants to stop soldiering. Israeli Jews, Arabs and Palestians all meet on one day as bombs explode
Louisa Clein | Lee Kauffman
Waleed Elgadi | Yusuf Khallil
Adi Lerer | Yael Kaufmann
Andy Lucas | Sammy Hadad
David Ricardo-Pearce | Gideon Kauffman
Chris Spyrides | Sergei Goldstein
Alistair Toovey | Sharif Khallil
Trudy Weiss | Varda Kaufmann-Goldstein
Writer & Director Julia Pascal, Producer Susannah Kraft Leven, Designer Claire Lyth, Lighting Design Ben Cowens, Sound Design Zoe Blackford, Stage Manager Chloe Turner, Director’s Assistant Anna Roche, Original Graphic Design Eugenie Dodd, Graphic Design Jermaine Riley, Rehearsal photos Habie Schwarz, Production Shots Mia Hawk.
Plays until: 29th Aug 2015
Performances Tue – Sat Evenings 19.45 Thu & Sat Matinees 15.15
Running Time 2 hours 30 mins (including 15 minute interval)
Friday 7th August 2015