I was sitting on the patio of Jerusalem’s YMCA building enjoying a cup of coffee and a croissant one morning, waiting for my French class to begin, when someone with a friendly smile (who I later learned was the author-director of the play, Bonna Haberman) approached me and thrust a brochure into my hand. This was an advertisement for a play to be given that evening featuring Israeli and Palestinian actors. The play, written mainly by its participants, represented the culmination of two years of work on the project, and supposedly tackled the issue of Palestinian-Israeli relations in a new way.
It seemed a worthy cause, and since we were not busy that evening my husband and I decided to attend. When we got to the YMCA we found a handful of people, all of them Israelis as far as we could make out, waiting outside the hall for the doors to open, which they did eventually somewhat belatedly, to the complaints of some of the people who had been standing there for quite a long time.
The YMCA auditorium has room for an audience of around 600, so it was not difficult for the 30 or so people who had turned up to find good seats. The stage was already adorned with assorted plastic bottles, old newspapers and other debris, confirming what we could learn from our programme (in Hebrew, English and Arabic), namely, that the play was set on a garbage dump. Two actors, a man and a woman, on separate sides of the stage, were busy forming little figures from the debris or wrapping bottles in plastic film, both concentrating in silence on what they were doing. The sound of traffic, garbage-collections, and helicopters could be heard. At one stage the couple began to speak to one another, he in Arabic, she in Hebrew, and they seemed to understand one another. So far, so very metaphorical.
A woman dressed in outrageously fashionable clothes then appeared on stage, her stance, actions and speech all serving as a caricature of the nasty Israeli. After launching into an animated monologue (in Hebrew) about the real-estate potential of the site, she offers money to the man, which he apparently accepts. She disappears, and the two characters begin to quarrel, the woman speaking Hebrew, the man Arabic; In addition, at one point a grandmotherly figure appears and adds her contribution (in Arabic speech and song) to the dialogue. The Hebrew-speaking girl then gets into the trash-can that dominates the stage and proceeds to offer paper sandwiches and rats-tail soup to the others, hence the play’s title ‘Take-Away.’
Anyone like myself who doesn’t understand both languages lost out on a large part of the dialogue, but at one point it was clear that the man and woman undress and make love offstage (behind a back-lit screen), then come back and quarrel some more. Finally, the two begin to fight physically. This was actually the best part of the play in theatrical terms, as it involved some beautiful balletic and athletic movements, without the intrusive sound-effects that constituted the backdrop to the first scene. At the end, however, the stage is left in a sorry state, with both sides dead or injured and garbage strewn all over the place.
At this point a young man with a guitar came along and sang a sad song in Hebrew and Arabic about the futility of a situation in which people are in conflict with one another instead of cooperating. The play was a production of a project known as the ytheater, in which both Palestinian and Israeli actors participate, and which is supported by various august bodies in Israel.
We found the whole event very noble and worthy, but as we filed out we also felt that it was somewhat naïve and over-simplified. True, it’s important to try and get the message across, but it’s a pity that there were so few Palestinians in the audience.