By Yasmine Shemesh
VANCOUVER — Aaron Davidman was watching a documentary the other night. In the program, an elderly congressman stated that he was disgusted at the lack of civility in debate. “We used to have adversaries,” the politician said. “Now all we have are enemies.” Davidman, the writer and actor behind Wrestling Jerusalem, a play about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thought it was an interesting distinction.
“What happened to the adversarial relationship, where you have different ideas, you argue, you debate, and you learn, and you grow, and you make your way as a democracy?” Davidman contemplates, speaking over the telephone from his home in California. “Or as a community?” In Wrestling Jerusalem, Davidman seeks to provide a deeper understanding of both sides of an entrenched battle where the narrative often becomes a with-us-or-against-us argument.
“I think the impetus is to really try to move the conversation from a real polemical conversation to something much more nuanced and complex,”Davidman says. “And that still remains the goal of the piece.”
Of course, it’s a complicated conversation. A bloody one characterized by tremendous historical, political, social, and religious divisions. One where all voices, regardless of from where they come, desperately need to be listened to. Wrestling Jerusalem creates an immersive experience where the multitude of sides can be both felt and heard. Onstage,Davidman inhabits 17 different identities — people he met and interviewed while travelling to Israel over the course of nearly a decade — each of whom have very different points of view, from Jewish and Muslim merchants, to clergy to soldiers to average citizens.
“Each character is fully rounded and very passionate about their convictions, and they’re also very human,”Davidman describes. “It’s very hard to write off any of these characters, no matter what your perspective is. And that’s the goal of theatre, of course, is to really humanize these issues so that they have a face and heartbeat. No matter where you fall on the spectrum — you might disagree with some of these people, but you have to engage them.”
That’s also the trouble the world is in right now in general, he adds, in the sense that people are growing more into a place of disengagement, where we disengage with those who are different from us — the “other” — and remain stuck in reaffirmations of what we already believe. “I think that’s a dangerous condition in our particular world,”Davidman continues. “And I’m trying to push back against that and encourage engagement.”
For Davidman, the greatest takeaway of this whole experience has been being reassured, by his audience’s response, that multiple perspectives are vital to our humanity. “The transcendent themes of the piece have really won the day, over any one particular perspective or one particular character or person,” he says. “For me, it’s become an exercise — this exercising my capacity to really hold multiple perspectives within me and not come down on one side; not come down in one limited space.”
What has Davidman learned about humanity? “On the one hand, people are cruel,” he replies. “They’re cruel, and violent, and selfish, and afraid… But on the other hand, people are incredibly generous, and trusting, and full of love, and good will. And both are true. And the question is, which is going to win the day? And I’d like to believe that it’s the latter that is going to win the day, because love is the most powerful force that we have.”
Wresting Jerusalem runs at the Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre from March 1 -2 as part of the Chutzpah! Festival.Aaron Davidman, BC, British Columbia, Chutzpah! Festival, Israel-Palestine, live theatre, Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre, Wrestling Jerusalem