Description

This photograph shows a dress rehearsal for a production of Romeo and Juliet that was jointly produced by the Al-Kasaba Theatre in Ramallah and the Khan Theatre in Jerusalem. In devising the production, the directors, Fouad Awad and Eran Baniel, intended ‘to remind all that the cost of hatred between fathers is the death of their children’. In the production a Palestinian Romeo (played by Khalifa Natour) and an Israeli Juliet (Orna Katz) fall in love. The dialogue was translated into a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic, and subtitles in both languages were shown during the performance. The costumes and setting were Renaissance, but there were gestures towards the contemporary conflict in the West Bank, such as the actors fighting with knives instead of swords, and Mercutio throwing a stone at the Capulets in an echo of the Intifada of the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Reception

There were numerous threats to the production because of the political situation: on several occasions Israeli soldiers prevented the Palestinian actors from entering Jerusalem to take part in rehearsals; and Baniel received death threats from other Israelis for staging a play ‘advertising intermarriage’. While Awad expressed his desire ‘to find the connection between Romeo and Juliet and our reality today’, some of the actors seemed uncomfortable with this and tried to keep a distance between the play and the outside world. This stance became increasingly difficult after the massacre at Hebron in February 1994, which brought much tension to the production.

The play opened the Lille Festival in France and received great international acclaim. However, there were dissenting voices. Freddy Rokem, Professor of Theatre Arts at Tel Aviv University, describes the play as a ‘polite handshake of official recognition’, but writes that the play ‘says nothing unexpected about the ideological, the political and the cultural conflicts in the contemporary city of Jerusalem’ and rather that it perpetuates the idea of Israeli hegemony, for example in the dominance of Hebrew in this bilingual production (the Montagues speak Arabic among themselves but adopt Hebrew in the mixed scenes). The Romeo of this play also perpetuates a common Israeli stereotype of a Palestinian man, whereas (Rokem suggests), it might have been more interesting to see a Palestinian Juliet and an Israeli Romeo, perhaps in a role other than a soldier or settler. In ‘Postcard from the Peace Protest’ (Palestine-Israel Journal, 2, 1995) Rokem writes:

One of the goals of the theater, at least when it deals directly with political issues of this kind, as I believe the two directors intended for their production of Romeo and Juliet to do, is to ‘shock’ the spectators to such an extent that they will be able to see something which they have never really been able to see before. Political theater has to be dangerous and daring. And in order to be that, it is not enough to bring actors from the two peoples together and to present a bilingual performance.

Transcript