Sometimes the easiest way to look at a problem - even one as complex as the Arab-Israeli conflict - is through the eyes of a child-Israeli conflict. That's what director Martin Mugliner proposed when he parlayed the discord through the classic childhood game of musical chairs in his latest stage play, "Keywords."
"Keywords," an interpretative take on the "occupation," written by playwright Eldar Galor, is based on over 25 years of Ha'aretz newspaper columnist Gideon Levy's reporting, as well as eyewitness testimonies from MachsomWatch volunteers; and also internet commentators' fodder on the situation at large.
It won second place for Best Play at the Acre Film Festival this past October, and now comes to Jaffa on January 7 for a new run at the Alley Theater.
"I wanted to explore how the tension of this situation can be viewed through a children's game," Mugliner said of his stage vision. "I thought that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be viewed as one chair, with two people who want to sit on it, just like the game of musical chairs. It became a statement."
This statement utilizes archived materials to present a mirror image of the current political climate in real time through a mix of both traditional and avant-garde theatrical approaches. Mugliner presents his actors in a two-fold way, as players in a game of musical chairs who represent an Internet search engine of information, as well as the actors who play Gideon Levy and his Arab counterpart who tell the story.
"I had the vision of using both players in a game, and actors in a classic sense. The players are all walking around as if they are a search engine that doesn't stop the entire time," Mugliner explained. "There is no separation between the audience and the stage which makes you feel very exposed as an audience. The audience is the stage, the stage is the audience, and the players are inside the audience sitting in chairs next to them. It attacks you from all sides, because the one thing I wish to do is open up minds to the realization that we have to end the occupation."
It was a message that came so loud and clear at the closing ceremony in Acre that several audience members walked out. And these strong reactions are exactly what Galor and Mugliner are hoping to produce again in Jaffa.
"I was amazed at the audience reaction," Mugliner said. "I wanted people to react and to speak and express their feelings even if it goes against the play, because I think a huge problem we face today is that people don't communicate with all sides. So even if it makes people hate the play, I know we did something good by making them react and communicate."
And for that, he has Gideon Levy to thank. "I think his work is very important. He's very underrated and not popular because in the reality we live, he tells us something we prefer not to see. We were very honored to have him in the audience in Acre."
For Mugliner, it was the only project that was able to pull him out of a 15-year hiatus from the Acre Film Festival, the same place where he got his start in filmmaking at the tender age of 17.
"I started directing when I was very young, 17 years old, and I directed the play "Parthadox," which was invited to the festival in 1993," he recalled. "That was the beginning of my career. And then a year later I won first prize at Acre for "The Way We Continue." But it was all too fast and too much and I had to take a break from Acre for 15 years. If it wasn't for Eldar, who convinced me to direct this play, I'm not sure I would have gone back to Acre," he said.
But he did go back. And now, he's handing out a clear, one-sided, definitive message - and a proposed solution. "I think the play is very important and I'm trying to do stuff that has real context behind it," he said. "The occupation kills us all. It doesn't matter who is right or wrong; we have to see the whole picture where both sides are suffering. We are dealing with a monster that is called occupation and it doesn't care about anybody. I can be a victim, you can be a victim, and each one of us can be a victim of this monster and we need to stop the occupation."
"Keywords," will be playing once a month at the Alley Theater beginning January 7, and tickets can be purchased by calling the box office at 03-681-2126.