March 28, 2009
By Tom Williams
Silk Road Theatre Project has mounted renowned Israeli playwright Motti Lerner’s updated Pangs of the Messiah—a play about right wing Jewish settlers living in the West Bank. Set in 2012 amidst the signing of a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians, the drama focuses on the Bergers—a fanatical religious Zionist family and pioneers of a West Bank settlement in Samaria. These passionate folks see political and social issues through the lens of religious dogma in their everyday life. Rabbi Shmuel (Bernard Beck) is the leader of a community that believes that the Israeli government is abounding them—selling them out and making them leave their home that they believe is their right from biblical days.
Playwright Motti Lerner builds his riveting drama as explosive events find the settlers quickly at odds with the Israeli government. We meet Amalia (Susan V. Adler), the rabbi’s wife and loyal Zionist with her married daughter Chava (Stacie Green) who is married to Benny (Brent T. Barnes) the rabbi’s protégé who served a prison term for planting a roadside bomb that killed several Palestinians. There is Nadav Berger (James Elly)—the mentally challenged rabbi’s son and Avner (Mark Hines) and his wife Tirtzah (Dana Black) who have recently returned from lobbying right wing Jewish organizations in the USA. Menachem (Larry Baldacci) is the rabbi’s aid and member of the leadership committee. Lerner presents the Berger’s family life during the crisis as he puts a face on people caught up in events that are quickly spinning out of control. We see how the strength of this family lies in their obstinate determination and deep religious roots. They adamantly condemn the secular democratic Israeli government yet they are conflicted as to what to do about losing their homes for peace. The complex arguments are evenly presented leaving audiences to arrive at their own conclusions.
This cautionary tale depicts some of the settlers becoming violent and cruel in order to preserve and protect their homes. The possibility of Jews fighting Jews in civil war and the possible destruction of the state of Israel from their fanatic actions is plausibly presented. Lerner makes a strong case for the dynamics inherent in religious absolutism. Rabbi Shmuel’s sons learn from him to be extremist capable of risking the lives of their followers for their beliefs. Pangs of the Messiah humanizes and scares us as we empathize with the Bergers. Their dilemma threatens more than their settlement. The gripping last few scenes emotionally portray the rigidity and destructive elements of fanaticism that could lead to tragedy. Bernard Beck and Susan V. Adler lead a first rate cast that reach the depths of angst necessary to truthfully tell Lerner’s story. Pangs of the Messiah is powerful, scary, provocative, and compelling. It is an important drama that will kindle debate about the future of Israel and Palestine. Silk Road Theatre Project’s is to be commended for producing this honest play.