Jeremie Bracka puts conflict on the couch

The one-man show ‘Peres in Therapy’ parodies the Middle East peace process.

Jeremie Bracka370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Jeremie Bracka370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Back during his days working in Israel’s mission to the UN, Jeremie Bracka sat in on a lot of meetings between world leaders. He admits that his mind would wander occasionally.
So much so, that during one particular meeting in 2009 he began imagining Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat in couples therapy together.
Two years later, Bracka’s one-man show, Peres in Therapy, was born, presented by his company, Smoking Salmon Productions.
The political comedy parodies the Middle East peace process through Bracka’s own experiences as a human rights lawyer in Israel and at the UN. He says that therapy in his show is a metaphor for the peace process and the Oslo Accords negotiations, as mediated by an American therapist.
“I think that the idea of therapy in the western sense is a little bit absurd,” he says in a phone interview from New York. “I think there’s something very comedic about [trying to mediate] through translators.”
From messages getting lost in translation to the disconnect between politicians and what’s happening on the ground, what Bracka calls “the absentminded way international relations are conducted,” he finds humor.
The Melbourne native who made aliya in 2007 and lives in Tel Aviv, plays an impressive 20 characters in the show, including his parents (his father is Egyptian and his mother is Polish-born), Shimon Peres, Yasser Arafat, and an “Israeli propaganda machine” he named Shuli Tabuli.
Called by one reviewer “Melbourne’s very own Sasha Baron Cohen,” Bracka, who speaks five languages, expertly switches among his voices and characters. He insists that his professional background, which also includes working at the Peres Center for Peace in 2008, as a project manager for Uri Savir, Israel’s chief negotiator at Oslo, clerking for the vice president of Israel’s Supreme Court in 2010, and working in the foreign ministry from 2011-2012, perfectly complements his profession as a comedian and writer.
“They’re both very much about using words or language as a means or vehicle for advocacy,” says Bracka, who trained professionally at the National Theater School of Performing Arts from 2001-2002. “I get the audience to believe I’m a credible personality.
I think both actors and lawyers are very much advocates.”
In transitioning between his characters Bracka says he entirely inhabits each character in his mind as he physically becomes him or her. His Arab and Israeli characters walk and stand differently, more upright or hunched over, but he says it’s their voices that define them.
“The different accents drive the characters,” says Bracka.
Politics of the day, sadly, have little effect on them. Not much has changed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since the two-year-old show opened, with a cycle of failed American attempts to revive the peace talks, and Bracka says the issues are as raw and fresh as ever.
“Whether it’s Kerry or Clinton or Obama or George Bush, we’ve still got the conflict with America doing its best to mediate between two ideological nationalist groups that are unable to reach an agreement,” he says. “The specifics of this week’s events does not in any way take away or detract from the show.”
Peres in Therapy, which debuted in February 2011 in Melbourne under the title Arafat in Therapy, has shown around Australia and in New York. Bracka has renamed the show for its Jerusalem performances at the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel which start Thursday. He says he always wanted to use Peres in the title, but decided that Arafat’s name was more well known internationally. Israeli audiences, he says, will of course recognize the name as well as many more jokes in the show his non-Israeli audiences don’t pick up on.
“Israelis instinctively and intuitively understand the nuances of the show and its politics,” says Bracka. “I think they probably will have a very big appreciation for the show that Jews from the Diaspora do not.”
Bracka is looking forward to being more explicit in his performance – “no diluting,” he says.
“It’s like a coming home for the show. I’m very excited to be able to use Hebrew words throughout the show without feeling selfconscious.”
After his three shows in Jerusalem, Bracka is set to perform at the prestigious United Solo Theater Festival in New York in the fall, where 121 one-man shows from writers from around the world were selected.
Bracka says Peres in Therapy, as well as his other original one-man comedies, Lox, Shmocks and Two Smoking Salmons (2005- 2006) and Enough About Me... Let’s Talk About Jew (2007-2008), are profoundly influenced by his parents and Jewish background.
“I think that my parents have been instrumental in pushing me through,” he says. As a sixth-generation Australian raised with plenty of Holocaust talk, Bracka says his Jewish identity strongly features in his shows.
While his shows have all been in English, Bracka, who is pursuing acting and comedy writing full-time, says he’s ready for a new challenge, now that his Hebrew is better.
“I have a dream actually,” he says, laughing: A one-man show in Hebrew about the experience of making aliya, from the moment an immigrant arrives, to trying to acquire a driver’s license, going by the post office only to find that it’s closed and being overcharged by Yes cable.
Bracka says he believes Israelis enjoy laughing at themselves and would enjoy the honest reflections from someone speaking their language.
“All that stuff that we know,” he says. “It would be amazing for an Israeli to watch this. I’d be very keen to develop that show.”Peres in Therapy will be performed on July 25, 31 and August 1 at 8 p.m. at AACI, 37 Pierre Koenig Street, Jerusalem. For more info contact (02) 566-1181.