On Stage: Internal Conflict

by Chuck Conconi

The Mosaic Theater Company’s one man show tackles a difficult subject, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

Writer and performer Aaron Davidman in Wrestling Jerusalem at Mosaic Theater Company of D.C. (Photo by Teddy Wolff)

Writer and performer Aaron Davidman in Wrestling Jerusalem at Mosaic Theater Company of D.C. (Photo by Teddy Wolff)

Aaron Davidman begins his 90-minute, uninterrupted performance of “Wrestling Jerusalem” by saying, “It’s complicated.” In the one-man performance of a show he also wrote, Davidman soon proves that while “complicated” describes the millennia of conflict in the Middle East, it is an inadequate word. What he does project is the reality that in that intractable region, everyone is right and everyone is wrong.

Davidman’s script and performance is brilliant and provocative. He works on an empty Mosaic Theater stage at the Atlas Performing Arts Center without props, while wearing an off-white shirt, slacks and shoes. Nephelie Andonadis’s setting with a color-stained backdrop carefully doesn’t interfere with Davidman’s message and performance.

And Davidman’s performance is mesmerizing as he moves easily about the stage under Michael John Garces’ careful direction, sometimes dancing and sometimes singing. It might be added that Davidman moves like he understands ethnic dancing with Stacey Printz’s understated choreography, and he has a remarkably effective singing voice.

As part of the Mosaic Theater’s Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival, Davidman’s “Wrestling Jerusalem” will next move to New York for an Off-Broadway run. The Middle East Festival had been part of a series initiated by Ari Roth when he was the artistic director of Theater J. He was fired there more than a year ago because of creative conflicts with the Jewish Community Center where Theater J is housed.

“Wrestling Jerusalem” is not the kind of production that would be acceptable to Theater J. It discusses the turbulence that has roiled the Middle East for more than 2,000 years and emphasizes that in all conflicts, even in the modern Middle East, there is more than one side in a dispute. Davidman confronts the complicated sectarian and ethnic differences with a wry sense of humor mixed with satire. He never preaches, nor does he offer advice. It is what it is, grim and seemingly unresolvable.

Even though he is alone on the empty Atlas Theater stage, he is supported by Allen Wilner’s dramatic lighting and Bruno Louchouard’s sound that at times invokes the magical music of the Middle East, and at other times, the sounds of crowds and conflict.

It may be that fighting and hatred will continue in the Middle East through the coming millennia. There doesn’t seem to have ever been a period of true peace there, going back to biblical times and through the Roman and Ottoman occupations and down to 1948 and 1967, or any other significant dates. Davidman’s intelligent script and understated performance emphasizes that in the land that gave birth to three of the major religions of the Western World, there are no ready resolutions and that the wrestling match for Jerusalem will only continue.

“Wrestling Jerusalem” continues through January 24 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center Lang Theater, 1333 H St., NE. Tickets are $20-$40 and can be purchased at 202-399-7993 or online here

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