Leila Buck is an appealing Arab-American actress/playwright with considerable inventive powers. She has a play called “In the Crossing,” sponsored by the Culture Project that is now running on the Lower East Side and that hunts like a drill for the nerves of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The audience is an important part of the play and I urge you to go, today or later this week, to make the drill go deeper, make the rest of the audience sweat.
The play is very clever, it fooled me. I will tell you how.
When you come in they give you a nametag and on the stage is a big logo for the International Society for Intercultural Dialogue and Education, which is staging a project on “Identity and connection in a globalized world.” The president of the society, Joan Hirsch, comes out on stage with Leila Buck to introduce her and thank her for the story she is about to tell about her eyewitness to the Lebanon war in 2006. And Joan Hirsch says she is related to Buck. She is the aunt of Buck’s Jewish husband, Adam Abel.– who also comes on to the stage. Abel is there to show his photographs of the couple’s trip to Lebanon. And from the beginning the Jewishy interaction between aunt and nephew starts to upstage Leila Buck. Hirsch strokes Abel’s chin, then he says he got his political education from his aunt in the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s. Hmmmm.
Well I was fooled. And only halfway in did I realize it was a setup. The dialogue and education foundation is a joke, and aunt and nephew are played by wonderful actors, Kathryn Kates and Adam Green. (Buck’s cousin Noor also enters,delightful Maya Serhan).
So Buck tells the real story of going to Lebanon with Abel during the 2006 war. The Israeli attack is savage and indiscriminate. The couple ultimately flees the country, about the time of Israel’s attack on a caravan of Red Crescent vehicles and its bombing of the house in Qana that killed 28, most of them children.
The Jewish in-laws keep breaking in– dialogue. Joan Hirsch begins to fret about some of the political lessons, in a slightly overbearing manner. And before long, many of the American Jewish contradictions of support for Israel are tossed out on stage. The climax for me was when the Adam Abel character gets off a string of angry comments at his aunt– that Passover and the slaying of the first-born of Egypt was the first act of collective punishment; that it’s apartheid inside Israel today, a system in which rights and privileges are distributed on a racial basis. And this was delicious to me, that anti-semitism only exists in remote areas, and the John Galliano only proves that, when he mouths off against Jews, the punishment is swift and devastating, because “we have to acknowledge that Jews hold a lot of power particularly in places that control the dominant political narrative.” Oh my god. I’m learning. (Young Jews rise, and make a Jewish spring!)
I do wish the play would get to that David Hare like rage inside the Jewish community more quickly. In fact I wish that Adam Abel’s actual Jewish family would offer itself on stage, with their Arab-American inlaw (whose own father is a noted Arabist, and WASP, we are told) as facilitator, to expose this deep philosophical divide inside the Jewish community. But Buck has built a great flexibility into her play by allowing the audience to break in at an interval and ask real questions, goosing the thing along. And Kates and Green comply.
A man two rows in front of me spoke movingly of collective punishment, the war crime in both Lebanon and Gaza, and that seemed to me the real message of this work, that when power is so vastly imbalanced, dialogue is a farce.