In Wrestling Jerusalem, which is at Chutzpah! March 1 and 2, Aaron Davidman tries to understand the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (photo by Ken Friedman)
Most of us have an opinion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But how many of us have listened to others’ perspectives, really considered them and tried to understand them? Aaron Davidman has. And he will share his emotional and thought-provoking journey with Chutzpah! Festival audiences March 1 and 2.
Written and performed by Davidman, Wrestling Jerusalem, directed by Michael John Garcés, is Davidman’s personal journey, as an American Jew, to understand a situation that is often polarizing and over-simplified. The play gives voice to 17 different characters – all performed by Davidman – who represent the breadth, depth and complexity of the conflict; its political, religious and cultural aspects.
As personal as it is, however, Davidman was commissioned to write the play by Ari Roth, who, in 2007, was the artistic director of Theatre J, which is based in Washington, D.C. After 18 years with Theatre J, Roth founded Mosaic Theatre Company, also in Washington, in 2014, and is still its artistic director.
“He asked me to write a solo performance piece investigating the deaths of Rachel Corrie and Daniel Pearl and reflect on the public conversation in America about the Israel-Palestine issue,” Davidman told the Independent about the commission. “The play started there and, as I developed it, it became much more personal and those two subjects no longer relevant to my investigation, which became about the multiple perspectives and competing narratives at the heart of the conflict.”
Davidman is not only a playwright and actor, but also a director and producer. He received a master of fine arts in creative writing and playwriting from San Francisco State University and is a graduate of the University of Michigan; he received his theatrical training at Carnegie Mellon University.
Davidman was raised in Berkeley, Calif., he said, “by Jewish-identified but not religious parents, with a social justice context.”
In an interview with CJN, when Wrestling Jerusalem had its Canadian première in Toronto in November, Davidman said he “fell in love with Israel as a Jewish homeland” when he first visited the country, in 1993, at age 25. “I spent six months living there and had a really incredible spiritual and Jewish identity-forming experience. That story is in the play,” he told CJN.
In the process of researching, writing and performing Wrestling Jerusalem, Davidman told the Independent, “My views about the importance of engagement have deepened, as has my conviction that understanding the ‘other’ is a vital part of the process of reconciliation.”
The play, which premièred in 2014, has also been made into a feature film, directed by Dylan Kussman, which was released in 2016.
“The transcendent themes of the piece remain front and centre now more than ever in a world that is growing only more polarized,” said Davidman. “This piece stands for understanding multiplicity and complexity as humanity’s best chance to live together.”
To facilitate understanding, talk-backs often take place after performances.
“We try to have community conversation – I prefer that term to ‘talk-back’ – after performances and screenings because the piece opens people up,” Davidman said. “They’ve just had a fairly unique experience concerning this topic and there is hunger to process it. It’s a densely written piece and unpacking it and allowing people to hear where they each are coming from in response has proven to be very useful and moving.”
As for advice for people wanting to try and move the public – or even personal – discussion to a more nuanced or empathetic space, Davidman said, “Listen deeply. Don’t know so much. Try to connect.”
Wrestling Jerusalem is at Rothstein Theatre March 1-2, 8 p.m., with audience conversations after both performances, featuring Rabbi Dan Moskovitz of Temple Sholom and Aaron Davidman. For tickets ($29.47-$36.46), call 604-257-5145 or visit chutzpahfestival.com. The festival’s other theatre offering combines Cree storytelling, Chekhovian character drama and comedy, performed by Edmonton-based, award-winning improv troupe Folk Lordz – Todd Houseman and Ben Gorodetsky of Rapid Fire Theatre – on Feb. 22, 8 p.m., at Rothstein Theatre. The festival also features dance, music and comedy.