Theater, once again unplugged from what gave it vitality, withered. It became increasingly mediocre, produced as spectacle or driven by the presence of Hollywood celebrities. Audience numbers have dwindled and aged. Critical debate on stage is largely banished. Theater criticism, as much of a curse as a blessing given the orthodoxy imposed by newspapers such as The New York Times, is vanishing with the death of newspapers. And when the dinosaurs do bellow, as they did when The New York Times reviewed “Prophecy,” they often hold up the artistic ideal parodied in “The Cradle Will Rock.”
“With the effective disempowering of artists, and with artists’ collusion in their own disempowerment, the theater now serves no meaningful function,” said Malpede. “It seldom startles, enlivens, enrages, or encourages its audience to become more fiercely aware of their own or of others’ humanity.”
Mariam, played by Said, returns from Lebanon as a young woman to meet her biological father, Alan, an American Jew who runs an international relief agency. She and her mother, Hala, also played by Said, left the United States for Beirut shortly after she was born. Mariam enters her father’s office clutching a handbag tightly to her chest.
I see. I thought it would be nice if you knew me, if you understood everything in your last minutes, if your whole life flashed before you, and you got to know at the very last moment that this child who was supposed to bring in the new world, only you never got to watch her grow up, unfortunate, that, but there was always a war on, after all, and how could you leave your important job to go there, anyway. It was always so unsafe. But, I wanted you to know, now, at last, about the new world you made with your big dreams, your empty words, and the murderous actions they cover up, the peace plans, the road maps running every which way, they have to bulldoze so many houses to get there, and put up such a big wall, build a fence around Gaza, such a nice prison they built, to keep the fishermen from being able to fish, and there is no where to run, you get blown up if you go to the beach, if you leave, you can’t get back in, and, then, why not send Lebanon back to the stone age, the people, after all, are so primitive. But none of that matters, now, at all, because most of all I wanted to see your face at the moment you understand it is your own flesh who is going to blow you up.
At this, Alan makes a lunge for her, and he grabs her bag.
I wouldn’t open the clasp.
He stands frozen, holding the bag away from him, not knowing what to do. Mariam laughs.
We are all terrorists, after all.
She takes the bag away from him.
Forget about me. I’m an old man. Don’t ruin your life.
Get ready, Alan. I’m going to give you a treat. Parents are always already dead. They don’t get to hear this:
Alan freezes. Mariam opens the bag and dumps its contents onto the floor: lipsticks, pens, her passport, a diary, a wallet, keys, the usual stuff, a book. Alan feels like a fool, but he relaxes. Mariam picks up the book.
See Under Love by David Grossman. A great Israeli novelist. A great Holocaust book. And do you know that David Grossman had a son, Uri. He was a tank commander in the ground invasion. His father had just signed a petition with other Jewish intellectuals calling for an end to the fighting. This war could have ended before Uri Grossman got killed by a Hezbollah rocket. He was twenty years old. And you think we are the only ones who love to make martyrs? Do you think we are the only ones who love death?
“What is to be done?” Malpede asks. “Here I speak only from experience. ‘Prophecy’ had six public readings, each packed with attentive and wildly enthusiastic audiences, yet was refused production by every theater that hosted these readings and by others to whom the play was sent. One producer called the play ‘brilliant’ but told me it was ‘too risky’ and he would ‘never produce’ it at his theater. His was among the most honest responses. Another producer told me she found the play ‘very moving’ when she read it, but is of the opinion that neither critics nor audiences wish to ‘see anything about anything.’ Another potential producer, who, after witnessing 150 people at the Kennedy Center become totally engrossed in a reading and hearing their amazingly positive feedback afterwards, wrote me, coolly, that he ‘had received negative emails’ and withdrew his offer to consider the play.
“George Bartenieff, my partner, and I decided we had to produce the play ourselves. We had developed a devoted core audience, and the play had no trouble attracting wonderfully talented actors. In fact, I had written it for Najla Said and Kathleen Chalfant, and both were eager to do it. Najla went to London, where ‘Prophecy’ premiered in a co-production, which we partially funded, mainly from a small pension fund of mine left over after I had been denied tenure at the Tisch School of the Arts for ‘being an artist,’ not a postmodern theorist.
“Bartenieff and I maintain a small not-for-profit organization, Theater Three Collaborative, just for the purpose of creating the sort of poetic, social theater we revere. We had already produced ‘The Beekeeper’s Daughter,’ about a Bosnian refugee, and ‘I Will Bear Witness,’ based on the Victor Klemperer diaries. After London, we set about raising the money, and finally completely depleting my pension, to produce ‘Prophecy’ in New York.”