“I am large. I contain multitudes.” Walt Whitman’s words in “Song of Myself” aptly describe Aaron Davidman’s chameleonic turn in Wrestling Jerusalem, a whirlwind solo tour through the protracted Israel-Palestine conflict. Davidman channels over a dozen distinct personalities, all brimming with hope, anger, and regret over the state of their divided home.
Wrestling Jerusalem kicks off the 2016 “Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival”, the brainchild of Mosaic Artistic Director Ari Roth. Wrestling offers an accessible and moving introduction to the rest of the festival’s offerings on peace, conflict, national identity, migration, and polarized politics.
As the show begins, the charismatic Davidman wastes no time jumping right into a dizzying argument with himself and the audience over the root causes of the conflict. He leaves no stone unturned as he rattles off common grievances from all sides from Hamas to the IDF to water rights to the Six Day War. Davidman’s opening monologue quickly reminds the audience of how hopelessly complicated the situation has become, setting the stage for his carousel of warring personalities throughout the show.
Davidman then unfurls his personal journey to the heart of the conflict through multiple trips across several decades. Throughout his travels, he steps into the shoes of Israeli politicians, military, and religious leaders, as well as Palestinian villagers, refugees, and business owners struggling to stay afloat. Several segments stand out, from a stubbornly hopeful Palestinian nonviolence expert shaken by years of war, to a blissed-out Israeli cook whose quiet mountain isolation hides deep military trauma. A particularly mind-bending passage centers on an Israeli physician’s assertion that the conflict is passed down at birth to children on both sides, almost like a terrible strain of DNA.
Director Michael John Garcés helps guide Davidman through a hypnotic rhythm of persona changes, often with just a subtle shift of body posture or turn of the head. The challenge of maintaining the audience’s attention on the solo performer for 85 minutes certainly isn’t lost on the creative duo. For the most part they strike the right balance and achieve a hypnotic rhythm, but there are several segments in the middle of the show where the “stand and deliver” approach starts to drag, before being rescued by a sudden lighting or music change.
January 6 – 24
at Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
Washington, DC 20002
1 hour, 25 minutes, no intermission
Tickets: $18 – $40
The show’s minimalist design enables Davidman to smoothly cycle through space and time without so much as a movement or set change. Set designer Nephelie Andonyadis’ mottled desert backdrop, Allen Wilner’s impactful lighting, and Bruno Louchouard’s atmospheric sound evoke ancient mountains, sandblasted walls, bustling streets, and beautiful night skies.
At the close of Davidman’s journey, it’s painfully clear how deeply the long-running conflict is rooted in the psyche of every character, regardless of location, background, or beliefs. Davidman gives no prescription for relief or resolution; rather, he offers poignant firsthand insight and a greater sense of urgency to come together to figure things out. In the face of such an intractable situation, perhaps that’s the very best one person can do.
Wrestling Jerusalem by Aaron Davidman . Director: Michael John Garcés . Featuring Aaron Davidman . Set design: Nephelie Andonyadis . Lighting design: Allen Wilner . Sound design/music: Bruno Louchouard . Stage manager: Wolfgang Lancelot Wachalovsky . Produced by Mosaic Theater Company . Reviewed by Ben Demers.