Arts & Culture

A Jewish Playwright in Germany

Jonathan Garfinkel, author of Ambivalence: Adventures in Israel and Palestine, will be blogging all week as one of Jewcy‘s Lit Klatsch bloggers. Garfinkel is currently living and directing a play in Germany.  I’m in Bochum, Germany, which I’m convinced is … Read More

By / October 20, 2008

Jonathan Garfinkel, author of Ambivalence: Adventures in Israel and Palestine, will be blogging all week as one of Jewcy‘s Lit Klatsch bloggers. Garfinkel is currently living and directing a play in Germany. 

I’m in Bochum, Germany, which I’m convinced is the armpit of Europe. Bochum is a former coal-mining town, completely destroyed in the war, and rebuilt in the 50s and 60s in lovely shades of grey and greyer (the occasional shit-brown stucco thrown in too, of course). This is the ‘ruhrpott’ of Germany – the industrial area of Dusseldorf, Essen, Dortmund – in the north and west. Last night coming home from the theatre after a few too many glasses of wine, my friend Benjamin and I saw a poster of Bochum that showed things from above – the city was suspiciously green. I think I’ve seen three trees since I arrived here. There are two great things about Bochum aside from the dreary architecture (I have a thing for dreary architecture – I mean it’s so ugly it’s beautiful – and Bochum does make Cleveland or Sault Ste. Marie look elegant). One is the Hotel Tucholsky, where I’m staying. It’s a lovely little hotel on top of a tapas bar. And they serve breakfast until 6 p.m. daily. Such a civilized place. The second thing I like about Bochum is the bar at the Schauspielhaus (theatre), where last night I found myself dancing until four. It was 1930s "jazz-swingers’ night", so there was lots of Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington and old German crooners from Weimar days and people decked out in their vintage best. Dim red lighting and no shortage of good, German beer. Incidentally, the theatre (Bochum Schauspielhaus) has been around since 1908, back in the days when coal-miners apparently used to watch plays on their lunch breaks.

I’m in Bochum because tonight is the world premiere of my play, House of Many Tongues. Or at least supposed to be. See, the lead actress has become deathly ill this past week due to some sort of huge infection in her throat that has prevented her from talking and eating (today it’s been reported that she finally ate some soup). So now I’m sitting anxiously drinking coffee contemplating wine waiting for the director to call and tell me whether or not the play is actually on.

Ah, theatre. It’s full of surprises.

Of course there is something surprising about a play about the Israel/Palestine conflict premiering in Germany, in German. What can I say. The journey has been anything but straightforward. House of Many Tongues is a play I’ve been working on for the past four years (in between other projects, of course). It began in 2004 when I went to Jerusalem in search of a house I’d heard that was shared between a Palestinian and an Israeli. The journey to find this house and the attempt to write the play became the core of my memoir Ambivalence: Adventures in Israel and Palestine . Part of the story behind the memoir is about the impossibility of writing a play about Israel. I mean, it was the height of the second Intifada and the real world drama was much more dramatic than any kind of drama I put on the page.

In the end, I did find a way into writing the play. How did I do that? I wanted everyone to have a voice – that is, I let the Israelis and Palestinians speak (shout, gesticulate, scream), but I also wanted the surroundings to speak too. I gave voice to the inanimate and made the house the central character. I suppose the idea was that I wanted to hear the heart of things. Surely a house has an opinion on this century old conflict. Surely her stake in the matter should be considered too. Anyhow, let’s just hope it actually hits the damn stage.

In the meantime I’ll spend my day waiting and considering what the hell else I should do with my life other than write. A friend of mine once said I’d make a good midwife. Hmm. This afternoon I think I’ll opt for the Rioja instead.

Jonathan Garfinkel, author of Ambivalence: Adventures in Israel and Palestine, is guest-blogging on Jewcy, and he’ll be here all week. Stay tuned.