Tal Itzhaki confronts her dramatic obsession with the “wall”
By Jack E. Friedman, Ph.D
A review of Itzhaki’s “Ways of Unseeing: Glass Walls on the Main Stage,” in Political Performances: Theory and Practice, edited by Susan C. Haedicke, Dierdre Haddon, Avraham Oz and E.J. Westlake (2009)*
(Link to article http://books.google.com/books?id=suPA1Do-H6IC&pg=PT101&dq=Tal+Itzhaki+ways+of+unseeing:+glass+wall+on+the+main+stage&ei=r3xiSsu5HamMygTgir2rDQ)
The author, a noted Israeli stage designer, was long associated with the theater department at the University of Haifa, and is currently on the faculty of Sapir Academic College. She is the secretary of the Israel Association of Stage Designers, and for three years was a visiting professor of theater at Columbia University. She has also curated numerous stage-design exhibitions abroad and has presented papers at a number of conferences.
The theme of Itzhaki’s essay is her argument that, despite the revocation in 1991 of the censorship laws with respect to stage plays, a veil of self-censorship and the reluctance of mainstream audiences to confront unpleasant truths has obstructed the presentation in the Israeli theater of textual and visual representations of what she sees as the subjugation of the Palestinians under the “occupation.” “[W]e manage not to see the concrete images of the suffering, the pain. We know they are there, but we don’t care to watch it on stage.”
The security fence is the central metaphor--and villain--in her lament about the regrettable gap in the repertoire of the Israeli theater. The “wall we keep building between ourselves and the Palestinians forms the ultimate image, following years of unseeing....My personal feeling is that the wall should be the only proper set for any [political] play...until the real one is demolished.”
As testimony to her convictions, she cites her co-direction in 2004 of a performance at Barnard College called Neighbors, which was based on an adaptation of several of Hanoch Levin’s plays. As a “touch of optimism,” the production ends with the lead actress sticking a flower into a bullet hole in the wall, followed by similar gestures by the rest of the cast, who “manifestly pushed the wall back.”
Itzhaki nobly asserts that “art has a real need to deal with real issues.” For those on the Israeli Left--especially the radical Left--the “real issue” has become the largely unfounded, and relatively recent, Arab narrative of Palestinian “victimhood”--to the disregard of their country’s democratic commitment to achieve equality for all its citizens, of its unending striving for peace, and of the measures it is compelled to take to ensure its security and survival in a neighborhood bent on its destruction.
Itzhaki provides an unwitting example of the absurdity to which such a skewed perspective can lead. “Our country map in Arabic is something most of us have never seen, at least those of us…born after 1948,” she frowns. Who, one asks in response, has ever seen an Arab map that identifies the country called Israel?
*Itzhaki deals with the same topic in an essay in the Vol. 25, May-June 2008 issue of American Theatre Magazine, in which she poses the question:
Beyond Concrete: In Israeli Scenography, Is the Wall an Icon of Intractable Divisions or a Looking Glass? Magazine article by Tal Itzhaki; American Theatre, Vol. 25, May-June 2008.