A myriad of complexities: Pangs of the Messiah delves into the Middle East / by R. Sheth

May 1, 2009
By Bonnie McGrath

The minute I got home from seeing the latest dramatic offering at Silk Road Theater Project, I e-mailed my friend Jim who, to put it mildly, is obsessed with Israel.

Not necessarily in a "good" way. He is upset with what he sees as overpowering military overreaction towards the Palestinians in recent years. That in the name of security, Israel overtakes too much and overwhelms more than necessary.

He sees Israeli hawks in charge - so he revels in dovish aims for peace. He thinks that these same hawks have the American Congress wrapped around their proverbial little fingers and always get their way.

He loves it when columnists point out, whether in American newspapers or Israeli ones, that the Israeli lobby may be losing its influence and slowly being replaced by younger, brighter, more reasonable Jews who want to compromise, trade land for peace and otherwise live in harmony with Palestinians.

"You have to see 'Pangs of the Messiah' immediately," I wrote him. "The whole play takes place inside the house of a family of Jewish settlers in the West Bank. You will totally love it."

I couldn't tell him that the play's perspective would be so antithetical to his perspective that it would be one of those things you love to watch because you hate it so much.

I couldn't tell him who was right or wrong in the play, who was winning or losing, who was moving ahead or falling behind in the story, in Israel, on the West Bank, in the year 2012, during the signing of a peace treaty between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

I couldn't tell him because everyone who came on and off the stage, no matter what they thought, was winning and losing and moving forward and backward, and being happy and sad all at the same time.

Eight characters swirl in and out of the house on the West Bank - and their comings and goings and talking and fighting explain their feelings, their hopes, their desires, their glee and their disappointment and anger. As the story unfolds from inside the house of the Jewish settlers, the play comes to no conclusions of the kind my friend Jim comes to all day every day.

The playwright, Motti Lerner, is too intellectually honest for that, too aware of all that was at stake in the past - and is now at stake in the future. The impulse prevents simple answers as to what should be done. Or how. Or where. Or to whom. 
There aren't necessarily any good guys or bad guys. Compassion slides around on a continuum just as the characters slide around the family table. The entrance to the house - which incorporates a creatively designed entryway that feels hot and thirsty - just like the family members in the play - seems to encompass all the political points that come and go with the characters. Just like a collection of umbrellas in a stand.

It comes as no surprise that Lerner is active in the Israeli peace movement, but that doesn't mean he doesn't love the family in his play even though their West Bank house is one of many obstacles to peace.

In-house literature about the production of "Pangs of the Messiah" says the play presents Israelis and the Middle East conflict in "a myriad of complexities."

It is precisely these complexities that hang in the air, like the fallout from a bomb, during Pangs of the Messiah.