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Playing with Fire

February 20, 2009

“Are all sociopaths so charming?”

One play just closing in New York offers a “humanized” portrait of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh… Another, scheduled for import from London, has “raised questions” of anti-semitism for its depiction of Israelis as… basically a bunch of bloodthirsty sociopaths. Are these playwrights and producers just baiting controversy, or do they generate light as well as heat?

The former play, “Terre Haute,” imagines a death row conversation between thinly veiled stand-ins for McVeigh and the strangely sympathetic Gore Vidal.  It sounds like an interesting character study and a nuanced, even clinical examination of a terrorist.  Contrast it with, say, Steven Soderbergh’s cinematic celebration of the pompous words and bloody deeds of Che Guevara.  A play about a certain person need not be an endorsement of that person’s views and life.  “Terre Haute” sounds as though it carries “redeeming social value.”

“Seven Jewish Children: A Play for Gaza,” on the other hand, is a straightforwardly vicious little piece of work.  In the voice of Jewish parents in Israel wondering what to tell their children, the script is only about ten minutes in length. The words bounce around various sentiments and perspectives, before winding up to deliver this wow finish:

Tell her we’re the iron fist now, tell her it’s the fog
of war, tell her we won’t stop killing them till we’re safe, tell her I
laughed when I saw the dead policemen, tell her they’re animals
living in rubble now, tell her I wouldn’t care if we wiped them out,
the world would hate us is the only thing, tell her I don’t care if
the world hates us, tell her we’re better haters, tell her we’re
chosen people, tell her I look at one of their children covered in
blood and what do I feel? tell her all I feel is happy it’s not her.

Read the whole script for yourself here in pdf format.  Regardless of your opinion on Israel’s military adventures, it’s not hard to recognize the rancid odor coming off that language.

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