BWW Review: THE HEARING: American Premiere at Israeli Stage
Conceived by Renana Raz, Translated by Natalie Fainstein & Guy Ben-Aharon, Directed by Guy Ben-Aharon; Dialogue Moderator, Dr. Bob Weintraub (at this performance)
Presented Sunday, November 12, 2017, by Israeli Stage at Emerson Paramount Center, Bright Family Screening Room, 559 Washington Street, Boston, MA; www.IsraeliStage.com
Our Mission: Sharing the diversity and vitality of Israeli culture through theatre
In 2014, Adam Verete, a teacher of philosophy and Jewish thought at a high school near Haifa, Israel, was brought before a trio of administrators of the ORT Schools for a hearing to determine whether or not he should be dismissed from his position. A senior student had written a letter of complaint to the education ministry, alleging that Verete had expressed extreme left-wing opinions in class, including casting doubt on the morality of the Israeli Defense Forces. Using the transcript from the hearing (recorded by Verete), Renana Raz created a theatrical event, appropriately entitled The Hearing, in which four actors re-enact the proceedings. In celebration of its seventh anniversary, Israeli Stage presents the American premiere of Raz's work, co-translated by in-house translator Natalie Fainstein and Producing Artistic Director Guy Ben-Aharon.
By design, the presentation is done as a staged reading, under the direction of Ben-Aharon. The cast strides purposefully out from the wings, dressed in black with scripts in hand. From audience left to right, the three members of the hearing panel stand slightly apart from the accused teacher. Nael Nacer (Avi, principal of the school), Maureen Keiller (Leah, regional manager of ORT), and Melinda Lopez (Meirav, deputy director of HR of ORT) focus their attention on Lonnie Farmer (Adam) as they explain the protocol and their concerns, and he attempts to defend his actions. As the proceedings continue, they go over the same ground repeatedly, with neither side truly listening to or comprehending the other. The basic question is whether or not there is freedom of speech in the educational setting, and its many facets are explored in a variety of lights.
The fact that The Hearing is a verbatim telling of an actual event adds to the feelings of frustration one has while observing the way in which it was conducted. It also lends itself extremely well to current events in the United States, when speakers and works of art/theater are regularly challenged on college campuses. If a teacher cannot open a dialogue in an educational setting, then where (or when) are these serious conversations to take place? Israeli Stage recognizes the value of discussing the thought-provoking issues raised in their plays and takes responsibility to have an expert or experts facilitate the opportunity for the audience to participate post-show. Following this performance, the dialogue moderator was Dr. Bob Weintraub, former Headmaster of Brookline High School and currently Faculty Director of the Educational Leadership & Policy Studies Department at Boston University.
Ben-Aharon has a penchant for attracting some of the Boston theater community's finest players to perform in Israeli Stage readings, and The Hearing is no exception. Nacer and Keiller are regulars with the company, while Farmer and Lopez are each making their debuts. They give a quartet of quality performances, each creating a distinct character that is faced with a conflict, yet trying to do their best under challenging circumstances. They may be dressed in black, but they are all mired in the gray areas of their bureaucracy.
Note: Additional performance, Monday, November 20 at 6:30 p.m. at Temple Israel of Boston