Aaron Davidman’s enriching one-man play about Israelis and Palestinians, which he’s performing bravely at Philadelphia Theatre Company, is an act of defiance at a time when Americans are so willing – even eager – to take sides without exploring the facts. I mean real, documentable facts.
The show, “Wrestling Jerusalem,” fearlessly takes on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. It’s been brought here by Philadelphia Theatre Company, which is taking a year off from launching its own productions during a leadership transition.
Among the many plusses of “Wrestling Jerusalem,” Davidman carefully explores every side he can find. He offers each without comment, and the result is a show that bursts with ideas. What’s more, “Wrestling Jerusalem” is an example of terrific reporting; I don’t know if some or any of the 17 characters he meticulously portrays are composites, but they feel genuine in the beliefs they hold and the ways they express them.
Davidman gathered the material for “Wrestling Jerusalem” on trips to Israel and the occupied territories, and the script he wrote moves resolutely through the way the conflict began (in rapid-fire, he offers possibly 30 answers) and all the what-ifs that might have prevented or diminished it. Just when you might expect Davidman to offer a character’s view through his own Jewish lens, he surprises you. It happens time and again during the show. He can communicate as an Israeli rabbi one moment, as a Palestinian observing stone throwers the next, and with clarity and candor in every instance.
In front of an effective desert-colored backdrop by designer Nephelie Andonyadis — striking in Allen Willner’s lighting — Davidman tells how his last trip to the Mideast was a fact-finding mission, not a vacation. His Jewish values – “freedom, equality, justice” he tells us – guide his approach to the trip. It becomes clear, though, that the more he hears from Israelis and Palestinians, the harder it is to resolve facts and opinions into any picture that resembles an overriding truth.
“Wrestling Jerusalem,” directed by Michael John Garcés with rhythm swings that help define characters and places, is a keen picture of entrenchment. I suspect that people who might benefit most from experiencing Davidson’s piece are themselves rooted so deeply to a point of view that they wouldn’t appreciate his exploration or his passion for it. Or the depth of his intellectual pursuit. Not so for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Community Relations Council, the producing sponsor of this show for Philadelphia Theatre Company. Hats off, or a tip of the yarmulke or taqiyah if you wish, to well-placed chutzpah.
“Wrestling Jerusalem,” presented by Philadelphia Theatre Company, runs through November 5 at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, Broad and Lombard Streets. 215-985-0420 or philatheatreco.org.