Via Dolorosa by David Hare; directed by Anders Cato.
"What is the joke?"
Jonathan Epstein as David Hare; photo: Kevin Sprague
In David Hare's autobiographical mono-drama, VIA DOLOROSA, the author turned actor attempts to give us his impressions of Israel in 1997. A play he had written was being rehearsed and would open there and he had the opportunity to meet important men and women in the Jewish community as well as their counterparts among the Palestinians. Hare played himself in this one-man show in London and New York and now the "role" of him is taken on the shoulders of Jonathan Epstein. Epstein the Jew, American and known for his nerve-shattering Shylock in Merchant of Venice, playing Hare, the non-Jew, British and known for his reserve and constraint. It's an acting task that seemed daunting when I read about it.
Jonathan Epstein; photo: Kevin Sprague
This work, played by this man, is extraordinary. It's an achievement that left many seated near me in tears. His possession of the man he portrays is astounding. Voyages of discovery are difficult, often painful. For Hare, the principal character in his own drama, the voyage is overwhelming. He is the Christian-British playwright with no academic credentials in the worlds of the Jewish State or the Palestinian Nation. He is a soldier without uniform, weapons or training examining the enemy and not knowing who that enemy might be. His walk down the Via Dolorosa, following the path of Jesus to the cross, and confronting the loneliness of thewailing wall at its conclusion is both moving writing - a gift from a difficult author - and moving acting, a returned gift-wrapped box from the actor. Both men should be grateful that in this case their works are merged on the stage of the Unicorn Theatre.
The language of this play is complex and adult and very intelligent. Be prepared to face issues, have them flung in your face, in fact. "Crime number one took place in Jerusalem," Hare says late in the 93 minute one-act. "Cain killed Abel." It's a simple statement of Biblical lore, but its impact in the play is monumental. He has been speaking of the victimization of the Jews at any and all hands through the centuries, but he lays the blame for outrageous killings at the feet of the people who cry out for understanding. A difficult play, as I said.
Anders Cato has driven his actor relentlessly, restlessly around a room filled with the trappings and memories of the author. He has given him no place to rest. Even when he sits there is an uneasy edge to his relationship to the chair, the step, the desk. The two men work well together, developing a hard piece of theatrical memoir into a character-driven exercise.
Coming so late in the season the play may suffer from audience burn-out or perhaps just a malaise after so much literary drama in a single season around the Berkshires. If, however, you are one of those lucky enough to get to Stockbridge and see this play you will end your summer with the heat of the middle-eastern conflicts reflected in a cool English 'stream-of-conscience' monologue.
◊ 09-01-06 ◊
Via Dolorosa runs through September 2 at the Unicorn, then travels to Brandeis University, returning to the Berkshire Theatre Festival for four weekends: September 29-30, October 6-7, October 12-14, and October 19-21, at 8pm. There will be matinees at 2pm on September 3 and 11am on September 28, and October 5. Tickets are $38-$43. Contact the box office at 413-298-5576.