At Jericho Arts Centre until November 30, 2014
Posted November 9, 2014
You’re not alone if you’re confused about who are the good guys and who are the bad guys in the West Bank. Canadian playwright Arthur Milner, born in Germany to Polish/Jewish WWII refugees, frames Facts in such a way you will see all too clearly that under the blazing desert sun, it’s all grey. What does emerge from this tense, often brutal 90-minute play is that nationalism – Israeli or Palestinian – is dangerous and nothing good will come of refusing to compromise.
Zionists, Jews – orthodox, moderate and secular, Islamic Palestinians and Christians are living in a pressure cooker: Zionists believe the land was God-given to Jews; moderate Jews are willing to give up land in order to have peace; Palestinians were already there when the United Nations Assembly partitioned Palestine in 1947 and the State of Israel was declared. As the professor says in Masada, a companion piece to Facts, “We took an Arab country and made it a Jewish one.”
Facts at first appears to be a political thriller: Gordon Philips, an American archaeologist has been murdered in the West Bank. Why? Possibly because he’s claiming there was no King David or Abraham and the Jews were never in Egypt. Pulling the rug out, in other words, from Jewish orthodoxy. Or because, serving on a Birzeit University hiring committee, Philips failed to get a young Palestinian women – a PhD student of his – hired. Or maybe just because of his frequent trips into one of the settlements. Wrong place at the wrong time.
Khalid Yassin, Police Inspector, Palestinian Authority (Mehdi Darvish) and Yossi HaCohen, Detective, Israeli Police (Jerry Wasserman), come together in an interrogation room in an Israeli army facility to find out who murdered Philips. They don’t much care but the Americans will want to know.
Facts is taut with political sparring between two well-matched antagonists who have been charged with solving the crime. But the situation really cranks up when a suspect, a Zionist, is brought in for questioning.
Adam Henderson, directing for United Players, sets the play in the round thus creating an intimacy that make Facts absolutely rivetting. You won’t doze off; you can’t doze off. You are in that room with Yassin, HaCohen and Danny Rakoff (James Gill) and when HaCohen starts getting physical with Rakoff, it’s scary.
Like a hawk, Wasserman moves around in that small space. His character is explosive, brutal, unpredictable and dangerous. Rakoff, like a rodent about to be torn apart by a predator, doesn’t take his eyes off HaCohen. Gill is unfortunately rather petulant as the accused – more like a schoolboy caught stealing cigarettes from the corner store. But Wasserman, most frequently seen on TV and screen, hasn’t lost his appetite or talent for the stage and the level of threat continues right to the end.
Of the two interrogators, Palestinian Yassin is the most contained, the most methodical and unbiased. Darvish maintains an attitude of impartiality, of ‘good cop’ to Wasserman’s ‘bad cop’. Together, Wasserman and Darvish argue and debate as their characters exchange insults and attempt to solve the crime.
It turns out, however, this whodunit isn’t a whodunit after all. What the playwright does is illustrate just how complicated the situation is. Arabs are killing Jews and Arabs; Jews are killing Arabs and Jews. The West Bank and especially Jerusalem is Ground Zero for Christians, Jews and Moslems and as long as compromise is a no-go, the killing will go on.
Hard-hitting, gritty, instructive and provocative, Facts ends abruptly. I was surprised and disappointed. It’s only after the curtain comes down that you understand what Arthur Milner is doing spectacularly well. On Fridays, director Henderson reads Masada, the companion play. Try to go on a Friday; Henderson is a fantastic reader and Masada sheds a lot of light on Facts.