The Law of Return, DC-area playwright Martin Blank’s three-actor work about superspy Jonathan Pollard, is set to become a feature film with Blank as screenwriter. Gail Berman’s The Jackal Group will develop the film, Variety reported Tuesday.
Jonathan Pollard is an American Jew who, while working for the Naval Intelligence Command, passed secret information to Rafi Eitan, head of a science intelligence unit in Israel. Between 1984 and 1985, Pollard passed information to Israel in return for payments which eventually reached $2,500 a month.
After investigators found a seventy-pound suitcase full of classified documents, they set out to arrest Pollard. He sought sanctuary in the Israeli embassy, but Israeli guards rebuffed him and he was apprehended. Prosecutors charged him with spying for South Africa, using classified documents to broker an arms deal with Pakistan, drug sales and tax fraud as well as spying for Israel. He reached a plea agreement, pleading guilty to one count of spying for Israel.
The focus of Blank’s play is Pollard’s attempt to seek asylum, and safe passage to Israel in the Israeli embassy. “This man, with no training, outruns the FBI and gets to the Israeli embassy,” Blank, Artistic Director of American Ensemble Theater, told DC Theatre Scene’s Jeff Walker in this interview. “They have the law of return, which is in their constitution that guarantees any Jewish citizen a safe return to Israel. They threw him out and disavowed [it] for about eleven years.”
The Law of Return had its first reading in the Kennedy Center’s 2013 Page-to-Stage Festival, which featured Rick Foucheux, Anthony van Eyck and Slice Hicks. It evolved significantly since then. Blank told Walker that the play had changed “dramatically” after the reading “I also think there is more cause and effect logic in the play now and the climax and denouement are stronger … the stakes are higher.”
The rewritten script played off-Broadway in August, 2014 to generally positive reviews. “[D]irector Elise Thoron amazingly keeps us on the edge of our seats for the full 75 minutes,” TheatreMania’s Zachary Stewart said. “Blank is able to raise a lot of intelligent questions about the nature of trust and duty.”
“Mr. Blank’s play is evenhanded in its way: Both the United States, personified by [intelligence analyst Steve] Harris, and Israel, represented by Eitan, come off as basically decent,” Laura Collins-Hughes of the New York Times observed. “Pollard supporters and detractors can find fuel for their arguments in Mr. Blank’s narrative.”
Although prosecutors at Jonathan Pollard’s trial asked only for a lengthy sentence, Judge Aubrey Robinson Jr. sentenced him to life in prison, citing Pollard’s violations of the plea agreement. Pollard’s appeals were unsuccessful, and he has been incarcerated in North Carolina since 1985. He is due to be paroled November 20, 2015.
Gail Berman, now head of the Los Angeles-based Jackal Group, was President of Paramount Pictures. Before joining Paramount, she was President of Entertainment for Fox Broadcasting Company. Information about the filming schedule and distribution date has yet to be released.