Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Review: When Text and Performance Conflict

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been a talking point for decades upon decades. But why did it happen and how can it be resolved? The answers are abundant. With a wide views of views and opinions, one man traveled to the site of conflict to find answers. In Wrestling Jerusalem, Aaron Davidman goes on a journey in hopes of cracking the code of the age-old conflict.
Written and performed by Aaron Davidman, Wrestling Jerusalem makes a stop at 59e59 for a New York engagement. Davidman goes on a personal journey to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip meeting an array of characters that offer him a varied perspective of why and how the conflict started and solutions for peace. Wrestling Jerusalem is a deeply enriching narrative. The text that Davidman brings to the stage is stunning. No matter his personal beliefs, Davidman brings enough vantages that offer every side of the story. How the story is constructed is smooth. The trouble is the performance. When Davidman plays himself, he is fine. But when he merges into the sixteen other characters, things gets incredibly muddy. Davidman is successful as a writer. Not so much as a performer. His characterization is not the best. Davidman doesn’t quite set up each individual character so it’s incredibly hard to distinguish changes. Davidman and director Michael John Garcés limit Davidman’s characters to subtle vocal inflections and slight physicalization. They are so insignificant that you wonder how important the individual characters truly are. Could Wrestling Jerusalem be more effective as an extended monologue told through Davidman’s eyes? Or does this version of the text require a performer versed in character? Nevertheless, the text doesn’t reach the full potential it deserves.
photo by Allen Willner
Wrestling Jerusalem goes beyond a standard solo show and offers a visually appealing design. The scenic design by Nephelie Andonyadis is simple. A textured splattered cloth backdrop and a textured splattered stage floor. The desert-toned pallet allowed lightening designer Allen Willner to explore color to create a series of evocative looks. Despite changing locales, Willner provided a different visual expression through narrative mood. The score provided by Bruno Louchouarn was reminiscent of location and worked well for the transitions. What didn’t work was the slight choreography Garcés and Davidman layered in. It sadly didn’t add anything transitionally.
Wrestling Jerusalem is an incredibly important story. Aaron Davidman has written a spellbinding narrative that results in a conclusion of no clear-cut answers. And that’s how it should be. The sad trouble with Wrestling Jerusalem is the presentation. It’s so wrapped up in trying to be something more than it needs to be that it lacks the essentials of performance.