Facts at the GCTC: Powerful play by Arthur Milner that will encourage debate on a hot subject.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

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Photo from The Guardian, UK,  with Michael Feast, Paul Rattray, Philip Arditti

Playwright Arthur Milner does not waste any time. Israeli Detective Yossi HaCohen (John Koensgen) is impatiently waiting for Khalid Yassin (Sam Kalilieh) the Inspector from the Palestinian Authority to arrive so they can begin their inquest into the murder/death of renowned American archaeologist Gordon Philips, killed in the West Bank. By whom? That is the question. The meeting takes place on the West Bank and Khalid arrives, visibly annoyed because he was held up at various Israeli check points. First impression: the two are on very good terms. Khalid, we are told, starts by speaking Hebrew, then Yossi mentions speaking Arabic but of course they are both speaking English and language takes on an important symbolic value in this region where communication has become almost impossible.

 

We quickly become acquainted with the events surrounding the murdered American and it leads to some extremely interesting discussion about the important link between Archaeology and History in Israel, as much as archaeological findings, can contradict biblical history. As this discussion evolves, we see that the Palestinian inspector is the Intellectual who understands fully all the implications of Philips findings because he knows the biblical and secular history of the region and he has a deep knowledge of the founding texts of both religions (Judaism and Islam). To explain why a devoutly religious Jew would hate all archaeologists working in the area, Khalid even begins reading from the Tenach (the equivalent of Deuteronomy), the first books of the Torah, which are the Judaic readings of the Old Testament. If we are to believe the findings of Philips he explains, none of this ever existed, there is no Moses, no King David no tribes of Israel and so

Yossi on the other hand is a “devout atheist’ Marxist, not a man of books but a man of action who wants to get right down to business and is ready to use his fists to beat a confession out of the only suspect they have managed to identify. An interesting pair who complete with each other in many ways and whose differences create an excellent theatrical dynamic that sustains itself until the end.

The two men try to reconstruct the homicide and some of the most fascinating scenes take place as they banter back and forth with clues and theories about how the murder was carried out. The arrival of the suspect, a religious settler played by Kris Joseph, brings out new energies and in some way shows the problematic nature of “Facts”, the title of the play.

The interrogation, supposedly a routine good cop bad cop show in the mind of Yossi who has images of American films in his head, brings about a serious shift in the role playing and shows how the tough experienced cop is carried away by anger, thus ignoring the ‘Facts’ to some extent. Khalid, on the other hand who was just as wounded by the actions of these right wing religious Israeli militants, is able to remain more detached and realize that the “facts” no matter whose facts they are, must prevail.

The positions expressed here might seem like an unusual twist of events given what we read in the newspapers about the peace process and relations in general in the Middle East. I am even sure this play will stir up a lot of controversy, especially because no mention is made of Hamas in the West Bank and the fact that Khalid represents the Palestinian authority, which is strongly at odds with Hamas in its more open dealings with Israel. However, Arthur Milner makes it a point to set up positions in the play that are full of contradictions that bring much interest to the drama. All these apparently unresolvable differences among Israeli’s themselves give us another understanding of the complex debates going on in the country and the resulting effects on the peace process, seen from an Israeli perspective.

For example, detective Yossi hates the fundamentalist Jewish settler as much as Khalid does but Yossi is deeply upset to hear that Philips architectural findings have disavowed much biblical history, even though Yossi is an Atheist. He shares some of the concerns of the religious settler but he does not hate the Palestinians. On the other hand, the religious Jewish settler considers the Palestinians animals, he refuses to speak to Khalid, even though he receives better treatment from Khalid than from the Israeli detective. Khalid is much more in control of himself. The “bad” cop Khalid turns into the good guy whereas the good cop Yossi soon becomes the avenging angel, the anger driven detective whom his countryman sees as the real traitor to Israel. To make it all more complicated, all their family backgrounds come into the discussion just to show that there is not necessarily any continuity in thinking from one generation to the next. It is all a great hot bed of controversy that might never be resolved.

It all takes place in cramped quarters where the heat makes temperatures rise. Despite some awkward moments in the performances opening night I found the play extremely riveting. Serious political theatre is something rare in Canada and Milner has dared tackle one the most difficult and explosive political questions on earth at this moment. It takes a strong will, a confident pen, clear thinking, a well‐informed human being, and a writer passionately engaged in the question to even dare speak of the Middle East, especially given the fact that Milner doesn’t even come from the region.

There is no question however that his deep understanding of the issues, has allowed him to stage a powerful lesson in politics, set in an exciting dialogue between the two men of law. Danny the angry settler, played by Kris Joseph did not quite bring out his tough ferocious contempt , but Koensgen (the Israeli) and Khalilieh (the Palestinian) play their roles like two alter egos avoiding any hint of stereotyping and giving much context to the questions that feed the misunderstandings currently fanning the fires of hate in the Middle Ease. This is a powerful play designed to encourage debate. I would love to be in Ramallah when the Palestinians see this show. In those circumstances, the real play will be taking place in the audience!


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