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War or Peace?

January 15th, 2015

NYC-getinAh it’s starting to feel like the olden days. The days when we made shows that sharply divided audiences (mostly for us) from critics (mostly against).

The Public Theatre did us proud on Monday. Technicians swarmed over both set and stage sorting out everything we needed. The US – UK voltage difference necessitated a fair bit of rewiring and step-up transforming but progress was swift and smooth. The ignition of candles required permission from the Fire Department of New York:

“How many times have you run this show?”
“I don’t know twenty? Thirty?”
“have you burned any place down yet?”
“no”
“OK should be alright then”

The show looks good in this space (one of five in the venue), the dimensions work, the metal pillars and high ceiling give the room the grand air of a secular cathedral (it was New York City’s first lending library) and later the venue for the world premiere of Hair!)).

In the early afternoon we ran a couple of passages from the show for Sara Krulwich, a New York Times photographer. She saw our nativity scene which concludes with the ‘Massacre of the Innocents’, she did not recognize this and excused herself saying “ah well, I’m Jewish so I wouldn’t know about that”. It was at that moment that I realised the show was about to meet a new audience, one in which the show’s Jewish strand would be under much closer scrutiny than before. Suddenly I was on edge.

It can be tricky to anticipate how new shows are going to be read by audiences and whilst I’d grown relaxed about the show’s Christian and Muslim material, as this had been picked over by lots of people many times, I had yet to get a Jewish perspective on what we’ve made.

The first show was smooth, Box Office said it was sold out, the cast did solid job for a first show back, the audience laughed consistently and loudly in all the right places. At the end there was much clapping and even a little bit of whooping and few standers.

Absorbed by the show and relieved by the audience response, I’d fully forgotten about my Jewish reading anxiety. Until a man in a skull cap was let into the Green Room. He needed to speak with me. Now I was on edge, we’d made the show in good faith but was that how it had been read by this man? He looked so intense was difficult to tell if I was in trouble. “That was a very hard show for me to watch” – this doesn’t sound good! He was clearly rattled but as the conversation unfolded it became clear that the show had made a powerful impact on him. He is an Israeli Jew with a passionate belief in the need for reconciliation between Palestinians and Jews. He works in the West Bank promoting this reconciliation. For him the show spoke clearly and powerfully about this area of conflict. He gave me his card and said he wanted to find some way for us to work together to bring The Cardinals to the West Bank to help in his efforts towards peace and reconciliation.

So in that context it is a bit annoying that a New York Times theater critic thinks the show is a pathetic waste of time. I paraphrase but you can read the full review here and you can read a review of his book here.

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