Monday, August 3, 2015

In Unfair Palestine (Romeo, Juliet, and localization)

Here is the first book I was ever asked to blurb: Tom Sperlinger's just published memoir Romeo and Juliet in Palestine. He was at Al-Quds University in the West Bank for just five months in 2013. It's a pretty good read and (most importantly) tries to be honest about its limits. The Guardian liked it too. A good excerpt was published at Mondoweiss back in 2013.

I find it interesting that most of the students aren't interested in Arab-Jewish Romeo-and-Juliet combos. Their minds run more toward a union between two Palestinians, one with Jerusalem ID and the other with West Bank ID. Isn't that star-cross'd enough?

On the subject of Palestinian adaptations, here's a 2008 film called In Fair Palestine made by high school students at the Ramallah Friends School. Also an intra-Arab story. You can buy it online and watch a clip here:

Of course, there have also been lots of adaptations that take the play in an Arabs-and-Jews direction, including a just-post-Oslo bilingual co-production in Jerusalem by the (Jewish) Khan Theatre and the (Arab) Kasaba Theatre (see, e.g., this admiring Baltimore Sun writeup).

[Update  9/8/15: I just found a video with some excerpts online. Enjoy!]

It has even been done in a comic vein, as in the short falafel musical West Bank Story.

Translator and theatre scholar Avraham Oz, with whom Parviz Partovi and I are co-writing an article on Shakespeare in the Middle East, makes a good point about Romeo and Juliet as a vehicle for Israeli-Palestinian issues:

Whereas Shakespeare makes a point to emphasize that none remembers the origin of the ancient feud between the Montagues and Capulets (not fortuitously omitting the one vague reference to that origin in Brooke’s poem), the cause of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is far from being unknown. If that be the rationale of reading the Shakespearean text, a play such as Troilus and Cressida would better fit the symbolic analogy.
He adds:
When, however, the latter was mounted at the Habima in 1980, Rumanian director David Essrig revived in it his successful production formerly created in Bucharest, and what could have served a topical political allegory for the Middle East conflict reminded one of an East European fable, which was missed by the Israeli audience and removed from stage after a few performances.
So it goes.

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