A French production about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict recently won France’s professional critics’ association’s prestigious Grand Prix de la critique as the best play of the year. “Tous des oiseaux,” written and directed by Canadian-Lebanese playwright Wajdi Mouawad, and starring Leora Rivlin, is to be performed by Tel Aviv’s Cameri Theater in November.
The play, which deals with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is performed in a combination of Hebrew, Arabic, German and English, and which also won the French critics’ award for set design, grew out of a joint workshop for Jewish and Arab actors and playwrights. Its plot revolves around an Israeli-German scientist who falls in love with an American Muslim woman and around the volatile encounter between their families. Set in Jerusalem and New York, it touches on the characters’ divergent reactions to the 1982 Sabra and Chatila massacre in Lebanon by Christian Lebanese forces aligned with Israel, as well as Palestinian terrorism, among other issues.
Mouawad was born in Lebanon, moved to France as a child and later to Canada, where he still lives and works. He is best-known for the books and plays he has written about the Lebanese Civil War from an internal Lebanese point of view. Rivlin is joined in the cast of the French production by a Syrian actor, a German actress, a Moroccan-Swiss actress and other Israeli actors including Raphael Weinstock, Rafi Tavor and Darya Sheizaf.
“The play deals with subjects that have a lot to do with us, beyond politics as well,” says Rivlin. “It talks about people who were compelled to go into exile and what it really means to be an exile; about the need to constantly be in survival mode, and about how people often adopt the identity of the place they’re in to protect their real identity.”
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Rivlin says doing the play has been a unique experience. “Getting to know these people, working in this theater, which is quite large – and coming here every day and seeing 200 people waiting to see if there were any cancellations so they can get a ticket. It’s an intense experience, and even though the play is not short (it runs nearly four hours), we’ve found ourselves taking bows 24 times.”
The play premiered at the Théâtre national de la Colline in Paris late last year, and in September will begin a world tour, which includes the Cameri performances. Other countries on the tour include Belgium, Canada and Germany. Cast member Jalal al-Tawil, a Syrian refugee, will probably not travel to Israel for the production.