"an extraordinary work of theater" -- DC Metro Theater Arts
"The abstraction of the conflict--leaders, political parties and settlement accords--falls away, leaving the audience with the wounds that leave indelible scars, the reality of personal inhumanity, and the lasting pain and resentment of ordinary people. Sarah, Avram, and Ilan likely function as agglomerations of different soldiers, but the regret and the pain of memory affect them all. ...
Nice's play succeeds in giving the daily reality of oppression stark form, and proves well deserving of the Best Drama Award it received at the conclusion of the festival."
-- Bobby Gulshan, Al Jadid magazine, Vol. 21, No. 73
"The controversies surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict make it a difficult arena for art, even given the human drama at its center. "It’s What We Do": A Play About the Occupation has no interest in sidestepping this controversy, but it does manage to avoid accusations of bias and create a more authentic experience given the source of its text: interviews with Israeli soldiers compiled by the Israeli NGO Breaking the Silence. ... worth seeing based on the script alone."
"powerful" -- MD Theatre Guide
“Nice’s play really respects the [Breaking the Silence] source material... The material measures the cost of occupation. Making art out of conflict and making something that is a beautiful human expression of pain and difficulty is important. It breeds understanding and a whole different take on political strife."
--Ari Roth, founding artistic director of Mosaic Theater Company
“'It’s What We Do,' gave me a disturbing, powerful, and insightful picture of the interactions between Israeli soldiers, Israeli settlers, and Palestinians, from the perspective of Israeli soldiers. I would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to understand the complexity of the current environment."
-- Mark Nadel, member, Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church
"Many members of St. Mark’s Mid-East group saw the play at the Fringe in 2015. Some had already taken our “dual narrative” trip to Israel/Palestine and met with peace-makers on both sides. All were deeply moved by the authentic testimony of the soldiers and the scenes depicting their enforcement of the occupation. The play reveals daily realities rarely glimpsed by visitors, as well as the terrible toll on all involved."
-- Peter Hawley, member, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Capitol Hill
"Israeli soldiers testify to the daily brutality they are trained to inflict on Palestinian civilians. Witness what the Israeli Government would like to keep hidden from the world. Learn the truth about Israel's occupation. See the play!"
-- Rosemarie M. Esber, author, "Under the Cover of War"
"Play Reveals Wounds of Palestinian Occupation"
By Bobby Gulshan
Earlier this year, the Israeli Knesset passed a law barring “Breaking the Silence” from presenting in schools, universities, or any other non-profit institutions. The initiative to enforce a ban on the group came from Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who accused “Breaking the Silence” of denigrating the reputation of the Israeli Defense Force in the eyes of Israeli youth.
“Breaking the Silence” attempts to bring awareness about the realities of the Israeli occupation of Palestine to the Israeli public and the wider world. The organization collects the testimonies of IDF soldiers who have served in the Occupied Territories, testimonies that often detail the everyday ground-level cruelty of the occupation. Pamela Nice’s new play, “It’s What We Do”, has recently given this mission a valuable assist. The play, which recently completed an award winning extended run at the D.C. Capital Fringe Festival, takes the voices from Breaking the Silence and puts them into the bodies of onstage actors.
The play opens with a disembodied voice that enters into an almost therapist-style dialogue with three IDF soldiers, Sarah, Avram, and Ilan. Events unfold as the soldiers share the images, memories, and emotions that cannot be suppressed. Actors recreate scenes at checkpoints, pointless and arbitrary humiliations. Sarah describes how Palestinians would travel into Israel to buy inexpensive goods, and then be forced to leave those goods by the side of the road when a security warning went out. Palestinians would re-enter their lands while wearing multiple layers of newly purchased clothing as they weren’t allowed to bring bags of goods.
The soldiers tell of the so-called “separation barrier,” or apartheid wall, and how carving its path required the destruction of near-ancient olive groves that had sustained farm families for generations. According to Ilan, the contractors sometimes abandoned parts of the path, for whatever technical reason, rendering the destruction completely senseless.
The tense and emotionally heavy movement of the play through the various dimensions of the occupation climaxes in the recreation of a raid on a Palestinian home. At the height of the action, the stage lights go black, while the small auditorium fills with the sobs of children. The abstraction of the conflict – leaders, political parties and settlement accords – falls away, leaving the audience with the wounds that leave indelible scars, the reality of personal inhumanity, and the lasting pain and resentment of ordinary people. Sarah, Avram, and Ilan likely function as agglomerations of different soldiers and voices, but the regret and the pain of memory affect them all.
“It’s What We Do” reminds the audience that we cannot dismiss a military occupation as a few simple stats in a research paper or brief headlines on a news crawl. As Sarah describes it in the play, occupation functions as a machine with the purpose of disruption, harassment and the eventual elimination of a people. Nice’s play succeeds in giving the daily reality of oppression stark form, and proves well deserving of the Best Drama Award it received at the conclusion of the festival.
DCMetroTheaterArts.com Review by John Stoltenberg
2015 Capital Fringe Review: ‘It’s What We Do: A Play About the Occupation’
As a medium for understanding what has been going on in the Israel-occupied territories, the art of theater can do something that other media cannot. Theater can narrate events and tell stories, of course; but it can also make the human emotions in dramatic encounters present and palpable. Theater can make feelings feel so real that we feel something akin to them too. As evidenced by a theater piece that opened last night, the resulting performance experience can be gripping. “It’s What We Do”: A Play About the Occupation is a powerful staging of a powerful script with a powerful moral meaning.
There was barely a sound in the sold-out opening night audience. There was nearly sustained pin-drop silence. Only one brief tragifarcical scene (an amusing bit about border-crossing bureacracy) got an audible response. All the rest of the time it was as if one could hear the audience listening, taking it all in, trying to process the unprocessable—in empathic response to the emotions being enacted and in stilled, chilled bewilderment at the inhumanity being depicted.
At a Busboys and Poets program in fall 2013, Playwright and Director Pamela Nice happened to hear a former Israeli Defense Forces solder speak out about the horrors of the Israeli occupation. That led her to discover an organization called Breaking the Silence, which has assembled a chorus of testimony about those horrors from other IDF service people. (Even a cursory glance at the group’s website offers a troubling look at the experience of soldiers whose consciences were military casualties.) Artfully, Nice has crafted excerpts from truth-telling about the 1967 occupation into a stage play featuring three Solders, composites representing an army of silence-breakers (compellingly played by Olivia Haller, Tariq Triano, and Keanu Ross-Cabrera), who are debriefed by an interviewer, an eerily uninflected offstage Voice (Dior Ashley Brown).
As the soldiers speak their verbatim testimony, their words now and then segue into short scenes, like tableaux vivants, which vividly demonstrate the solders’ horrific acts against Palestinians (who are played variously by a wonderful supporting ensemble: Moses Bernal, Sofia Pellegrino, Jamal Najjab, Xavier Goytia, and sisters Jaelyn and Izabella Cruz).
The cast has clearly been well-directed to communicate the truth of each emotional moment. Time and again, one could read on their faces and in their quavering voices whole chapters of distress where there was but a line of dialogue. And in the midst of the extensive combat choreography—when the Israeli soldiers routinely assaulted the Palestinians—cries of the heart could be heard with heartbreaking immediacy.
“Our mission was to disrupt and harrass people’s lives,” says one Soldier succinctly. And that is exactly what “It’s What We Do” puts on stage: Ransacking homes and blowing up houses (euphemized as “changes of address”). Bulldozing centuries-old orchards. Jewish-only roads that Arabs are forbidden to travel. Brutal checkpoint assaults. Denial of work permits for anyone whose distant relative ever so much as threw a stone at an Israeli (meaning that nearly no Palestinian can earn a livelihood). Doing whatever it takes to defend the Jewish settlers’ claimed authority to live on land that once was Arabs’. The catalog of indignities and atrocities that were these soldiers’ job to perform leaves them in an agony of inner conflict. They speak of being torn between the national loyalty of being born an Israeli and the awful recognition that that heritage now requires victimizing innocent Palestinian civilians. As one Soldier says, “The settlers are the closest to Jewish Nazis I’ve ever met.”
This is an extraordinary work of theater—disturbing in the most important sense that it provokes real-time reckoning with real-world morals and places the meaning of human emotions center stage. “It’s What We Do”: A Play About the Occupation is a play that one must think about and talk about after. But first and foremost, it must be seen.
Running Time: 45 minutes, with no intermission.
“It’s What We Do”: A Play About the Occupation plays through July 25, 2015, at Atlas Performing Arts Center: Lab II – 1333 H Street, NE, in Washington, DC. For a schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, go to their Capital Fringe page.
RATING: THE BEST OF THE 2015 CAPITAL FRINGE (5 stars)
© 2015 DCMetroTheaterArts. All Rights Reserved.
MDTheatreGuide.com Review by Andrew White, July 18, 2015
Fringe Review: “It’s What We Do”: A Play About the Occupation at Lab II, Atlas Performing Arts Center
Without question, one of the most compelling and controversial issues of our time is the Settler Movement in the West Bank, a region known throughout most of the world as the Occupied Territories but among the hard right in Israel itself as Judea and Samaria—their biblical names. A similar movement is slowly taking over East Jerusalem, once intended to be the capital of a projected Palestinian state.
We don’t see the maps, but if we did we’d realize that what has happened over the past 48 years, since the conclusion of the 1967 war, is the gradual dissolution of what was originally intended as a Palestinian homeland.
The impossibility of having a substantive conversation about the origins and ideology of the Settler Movement is painfully obvious to the Washington, D.C. theater community. Witness the dismissal of Ari Roth from Theatre J, a company that rose to national prominence under his leadership; with his dismissal a sizable part of the local Jewish community has said in no uncertain terms that the Settler Movement will not be discussed in the heart of DC’s Jewish community—at least not in public—ever again.
This in spite of the fact the Settler Movement has been controversial in Israel from its inception and has always generated heated debate here. Among my colleagues in Israel, the reputation of settlers is about as low as it gets; but thanks to the intimidation of a powerful few, reasonable people who are concerned about this issue have been beaten into the shadows.
As a corrective, the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace and the DC chapter of the Jewish Voice for Peace have joined forces to bring eyewitness testimony directly from the front lines of the Settler movement—“It’s What We Do”: A Play About the Occupation is an evening of verbatim testimony from Israeli soldiers about the disturbing things they witnessed and did in the occupied territories, on behalf of the settlers.
A dissident group known as Breaking the Silence is now beginning to reveal what life is like for so many young people in the Israeli armed forces; and although they clearly do not speak for everyone, their voices deserve to be heard and considered.
Given the backlash that has already occurred—when I attended this past week, hecklers tried to dominate the postshow discussion—why stage something this controversial? Why produce a play that gives American audiences such a negative view of the settlers? My own answer: consider that Israelis within Israel proper live in constant fear for their lives. Consider that the Settler Movement is arguably one of the main motivating factors behind the terrorist attacks that haunt them. Consider, too, that Palestinians have lived in fear for their lives and property because of the settlers as well. If we care about Israel, why can’t we follow Israel’s own example and talk about the Movement ourselves?
Assembling the script and working with a company of trained actors and local volunteers, Pamela Nice has created a brief, powerful side of the story from the Occupied Territories. To give audiences an idea of the scope of the issue, she has provided a series of maps (from BBC News), and each performance features a post-show discussion. The goal is not to brow-beat us into one way of thinking, but it is designed to force us to think more broadly, and deeply, about what is happening in the Holy Land. Olivia Haller, Tariq Triano and Keanu Ross-Cabrera give us a compelling glimpse of life on the front lines, soldiers who are forced to defend settlers throwing bricks at Palestinian schoolgirls, who have to clear and destroy Palestinian homes with only 15 minutes’ notice. For many in the Israeli armed forces this is just a job; for some, however, it is not what they signed up for, and they are now beginning to share their reservations about the Settler Movement and what it entails.
The format of the play is an interview, and the multi-talented Dior Ashley Brown—seated among the audience—provides The Voice, which questions the soldiers about what they have done. As Brown pointed out in a recent post-show discussion, the stories here have an eerie echo in what we see in the American press about police brutality. Whether it’s Baltimore, New York City or the West Bank, men and women in uniform are often placed in positions where they feel they must brutalize the local population; the names are different, but the stories are remarkably similar.
If your mind is already made up, one way or another, perhaps this is not the show for you. But if you genuinely care about the innocent victims on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, those who have been held hostage by Likud’s zealots and the anti-Semites of Hamas for decades, by all means come. Your voice and your compassion for both sides matter.
Advisory: Adult content
Running Time: One hour, with an additional post-show discussion.
“It’s What We Do”: A Play About the Occupation runs through July 25th 2015 at the Lab II Theater at the Atlas
Performing Arts Center, which is located at 1330 H St. NE, Washington, DC.