It’s not often that we get to hear an outsider perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict. In David Hare’s production of Via Dolorosa, not only do we get to experience the British playwright’s take on the conflict, but also the stories he collects and the people he meets along the way.
The play was inspired by Hare’s trip to Israel and Palestine in 1997, which he had taken in hopes of finding material for a play about the British Mandate in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Instead, he finds himself writing an entirely different play about his experiences, talking with politicians and other stakeholders on both sides of the conflict.
Hare, played by Robert Dorfman, gives an exclusive insight into this very personal journey as he experienced the land, including his own insights on the situation. Dorfman’s performance is unique and he adds his own spin to the story, lightening the sensitive nature of the story with clever observations and humorous bits.
The stage is set in front of a wall of boxes and Dorfman portrays the story to the audience as if he is talking to an old friend. With each city he mentions, he marks it on his sketched map of Israel on a teaching board, but it’s not to be confused with a lecture — the story is powerful and includes an incredibly diverse array of people in this story which conveys the real struggles at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Starting in Tel Aviv, and eventually making his way to Jerusalem, the West Bank settlements, Ramallah and even the Gaza Strip, Hare gets to experience all sides of the story as he tries to piece it all together himself. Hare was careful not to include too much of his own personal biases, mostly reflecting on his conversations with people, ranging from an American couple living in a religious settlement outside Jerusalem to Palestinian historian Albert Agazherin.
After talking Jewish Israelis and Muslim Palestinians, Hare concludes his trip by taking a walk down Via Dolorosa, the road Christians believe Jesus walked to his death, which doubles as the title of the play. He finds himself wondering what can be taken for certain and, more importantly, when the violence will end.
Sadly, the production and its message pose questions that remain painfully relevant to the conflict today, nearly 20 years later. Via Dolorosa explores these ideas, and leaves the audience hopeful, as Hare encourages an open dialogue, even when it seems unthinkable.