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Friday, November 18, 2011

Review: The Poster

Jade Hassouné in The Poster
(photo: ADARNA Photography)

The Dangerous Subject of Palestine
No matter what you say...someone will be pissed off
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

Like abortion or capital punishment, Middle-East politics, specifically those surrounding Palestine, is a subject you do not discuss lightly. Simply, there are tempers ready to explode on both sides of the issue and a playwright needs to wade into these waters eyes-open, aware of the mines everywhere.

Playwright? Hell, even a critic has to be cautious. I have never received more combustible mail (at the Mirror, Hour or Gazette) than when I said damn near anything about Israel or Palestine. Nevertheless it's a topic that draws me in and plays which deal with Palestine are like a flame to my moth. Like Philippe Ducros's The Poster (translated by Shelley Tepperman), now playing at  Infinitheatre, presented by one of my favourite companies in the city: Teesri Duniya. I couldn't resist.

I should have.

This must be said: The Poster is a beautifully-designed production (especially Diana Uribe's set), directed with pace and vigour by Arianna Bardescono, full of actors who don't relax for the 1h50m of the evening. But I can't remember a text I have disliked this much. 

A play is allowed to (and, I prefer, should) have a political stance.

Twenty minutes in I had pinned the politics of the work; though it paid lip-service to fairness for a minute or so, it became, subsequently, a pro-Palestine piece. That it was this is not a problem for me. A play is allowed to (and, I prefer, should) have a political stance. But there is a huge leap between presenting theatre with a political position and presenting one that is nothing but off-putting, head-banging propaganda, hammering the message again and again and again (the work could easily have been cut by an hour). Even that can be acceptable, if the rage in the work is human. But what Ducros gives us is a piece so cluttered with archetypes - the artist who must work for the Israelis, the woman whose brother died and who takes up the cause, the barber who is the rebel leader, the Israeli woman who calls Palestinians "animals", the Israeli soldier who sees the wrong of what he is done - this last, like everyone in the play, becomes merely a mouthpiece for the Palestine cause and joins the endless parade of speechifying avatars. None of these characters bleed or cry because they are not people - they are ciphers.

I have never seen such a dramatic work—so over-stuffed with Sturm und Drang—that was so monumentally undramatic. The final "shocking" scene virtually screams its coming from the first scene.

I have seen a lot of political theatre from Teesri Duniya, but in virtually every other case there was heart-breaking pathos, misery that had breath and was frighteningly intimate and even familiar. Indeed, Teesri has been famous for being the very embodiment of theatrical joy: the energy of life, hard as it can be.

So I have to wonder: what did they see in this play?

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