Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Death and Desire

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Death and Desire

Article excerpt

A Jewish writer fills a vacuum with a play about Israel that refuses to take a simple view as it foregrounds an erotic older woman. Matthew Reisz writes

Crossing Jerusalem

Written and directed by Julia Pascal

Starring Trudy Weiss

Park Theatre, London, until 29 August

Jerusalem, 2002 - perhaps the bloodiest year until then in the history of Israel/ Palestine since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, the moment when the second intifida definitively marked the end of the optimism in the wake of the Oslo Accords.

Gideon Kaufmann still has 24 hours' leave before he has to go back to military service in the occupied territories. His wife, Yael, is celebrating her 30th birthday and trying to convince him that their daughter, Michaela, needs a brother, citing the Jewish religious obligation to have sex on the Sabbath. But Gideon keeps backing away, saying that it's the wrong time for another child but refusing to discuss what is really upsetting him. Even between husband and wife, war has left a gaping hole of silence.

Later the same day, Gideon's mother, Varda, is trying to put together a huge but precarious property deal while also calming her senile mother on the phone. When her 35-year-old daughter, Liora, arrives, she instantly starts grumbling about what she's wearing and that it's "time I had a grandson". Her second husband, Sergei, an immigrant to Israel from Russia, deals with the almost constant family tensions by making crass remarks, irrelevant observations or jokes, followed up with "sorry about that".

After Gideon turns up, his sister confides in him about her love life. Casual sex with strangers has become addictive. She "can't live without" the "hot feeling" she gets - the "look that burns a hole in my belly" - when someone tries to pick her up in the street. It's "something to do with being here" in Jerusalem, she explains, "the fucking dying capital of the world".

Since no one has thought about food, all five of them decide to celebrate Yael's birthday at an Arab restaurant on the other side of town that offers "free hummus to any Jews who dare to eat there". And so the whole strange, dysfunctional, even rather unlikeable family set off together to cross Jerusalem, and to an encounter where they are forced to face up to some dark secrets from the past...

This new production is her own restaging of a play which Julia Pascal was originally commissioned to write by London's Tricycle Theatre in 2002. Brought up in a Jewish family in Manchester and Blackpool, she spent three months in Israel at the age of 14, including eight weeks at a Scottish school in Jaffa, where there were few other Jews but "an extraordinary mixture of Arabs, Christians, people from Eastern Europe, diplomats' children, the children of a guy who had come over from England to train the Israeli football team - strange English people I would never have met otherwise".

Subsequent trips to Israel and many "dialogues and conversations and arguments" across political and ethnic divides both there and in London led her to reflect that "there has never been a play on the British stage about Israel that doesn't take a simple, easy point of view: Palestinian good, Israeli bad. Most of them have been put on at the Royal Court Theatre." The Tricycle's commission offered her a way to "fill a vacuum" and "make a contribution to the canon of British stage writing - there's nothing which is so conflictual, so representative of what I know about Israel and the debate within". …

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