Stellar ‘The Return’ marks Israeli Stage’s final production

by Shelley A. Sackett

 

“I think I may have done something wrong,” the Jewish Israeli character known as Her says to the Palestinian Israeli character known as Him. “I want to understand and make it right.”

“The Return,” the provocative and extraordinary two-character play performed by Israeli Stage at the Boston Center for the Arts Calderwood Pavilion through May 19, slowly unravels the mystery of love and betrayal that underlies the relationship between these two very human beings trapped within a politically complicated country. Their backstory is a roadmap that examines Israel’s establishment and its contemporary social and political order through a Palestinian lens.

Because it is impossible to avoid spoilers in a full-throated review, broad brushstrokes must suffice. The writing (Palestinian-Israeli Hanna Eady and American Edward Mast), acting (Philana Mia and Nael Nacer) and directing (Guy Ben-Aharon) are brilliant. The set design (Cristina Todesco) and lighting (Jeff Adelberg) are powerful, yet unobtrusive, subtly evoking an interrogation room. And the post-performance moderated dialog last Saturday evening was as thought-provoking and engaging as the play itself.

The 65-minute intermission-less show is a product of the ongoing 20-year collaboration between the Seattle-based playwrights, who met through mutual friends soon after Mast returned from his first trip to Israel. The two talked a bit that night. The next day Hanna asked Mast if he would be interested in teaming up on a project he had in mind. “Aside from being a good playwright, Ed is an activist for human rights,” Eady said.

That project became their first play, “Sahmatah: Memory of Stones,” based on interviews with refugees from the Palestinian village destroyed during the Arab-Israeli War of 1948. In 1998, it was produced in Arabic in the Masrahal-Midan Theater in Haifa, and on the ruins of the village of Sahmatah in the Upper Galilee.

Eady, who holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in theater from the University of Wisconsin and a Master of Fine Arts in drama and directing from the University of Washington in Seattle, grew up in Buqayah, a small village similar to Sahmatah, also in the Upper Galilee region of Israel. “A mixed population of Palestinian Druze, Christians, Muslims and Palestinian Jews lived there together for thousands of years. In 1948, Israel was established and the harmony of their life in the village was destroyed,” Eady said. A large part of his family fled and are now scattered around the world in five continents.

His intent in writing “The Return” is twofold. “I would like the audience to feel the tragic reality of daily life of the Palestinian people, to see they are deprived of the most simple and natural thing in life, which is normal human contact,” he said. He also wants theatergoers to notice the play’s message of hope and spread it. “A good play changes attitudes and motivates the audience to take action,” he added.

Mast, who grew up in California, was “a very typical uninformed passive supporter of Israel” when he befriended a Palestinian coworker. “Through their eyes, I began to see things differently,” he said. He and Hanna have much in common. They both act and direct, and are compatible personally, politically and artistically. “We know a lot of beloved people who are in danger every day because of a system that places one people in power over another.”

When Guy Ben-Aharon founded Israeli Stage in 2010 as a 19-year-old Emerson College student, his goal was to expose American audiences to Israeli plays. Over nine seasons, the company has become known for its commitment to diversity, empathy and building community bridges through shared dialogue. “It’s so easy to exist in echo chambers, and have our own thoughts and opinions regurgitated for us. It is much more challenging to confront dualities and a multiplicity of experiences,” the Israeli native said.

“The Return” marks the last play of his company’s final season, and Ben-Aharon is “really glad” to share this Palestinian-Israeli perspective on the reality in Israel and the Palestinian territories. “It is the very first time we will have done that in nine seasons’ worth of work. We’re not trying to change hearts and minds as much as we’re trying to open them. Just a little bit.”

The Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts is located at 527 Tremont St., Boston. For tickets, visit IsraeliStage.com or call 617-933-8600.

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“Dawnland” packs the house at PEM

Adams

Cultural genocide survivor and “Dawnland” participant spoke of her experience growing up in an abusive foster home.

 

A near capacity crowd packed the Peabody Essex Museum’s Morse Auditorium last Friday for a special screening of the award-winning documentary “Dawnland.” Presented by the Salem Film Festival, the film exposes the untold story of how generations of Maine’s Native American children were systematically taken from their families and cultures and placed in white foster homes as part of a government sponsored program to “save them from being Indian.”

 

Many of those children suffered devastating emotional, physical and psychological harm at the hands of the adults who tried to erase their cultural identity. Among them is Dawn Neptune Adams, taken from her mother at age 4, who tells of having her mouth washed out with soap for speaking her native Wabanaki language.

 

She and scores of other members of the five tribes of Maine’s Wabanaki people shared their stories of the horrific abuse they suffered as foster children in public statements made to Maine’s truth and reconciliation commission (TRC), the first government-sanctioned TRC in the U.S. Its three-fold mission is: to document what happened; to give Wabanaki people a place to share their stories, and to make recommendations to the Maine child welfare system on how to fix its practices.

 

Pender-Cudlip

“Dawnland” co-director Ben Pender-Cudlip answered audience questions at the post-screening Q&A.

 

“Dawnland” filmmakers Adam Mazo and Ben Pender-Cudlip follow the TRC to contemporary Wabanaki communities for an intimate behind-the-scenes look at the untold narratives of those who endured Maine’s policy of cultural genocide as they struggle to reveal their truths and heal.

 

“Sometimes examining our past can help frame the current dialogue. ‘Dawnland’ touches upon an important part of our country’s history that isn’t as well known as it should be,” said SFF Program Director during a post-screening Q&A attended by Co-director Pender-Cudlip, Producer Dr. Mishy Lesser and “Dawnland” participant Dawn Neptune Adams.

 

Adams was born in Bangor, Maine on a reservation of the Penobscot Nation. At first, she did not want to be filmed. “I am a shadow warrior. I am not one to be in the spotlight,” she said.

 

It was not an easy decision for her to make a public statement to the TRC. “I had put my story away in childhood. Luckily, I took it out. It had been festering,” she said. “We’ve all been hearing this inside of us. When you honor us by listening, you help us carry this weight.”

 

Co-director Pender-Cudlip shared his initial concern about making a film that would both be accessible to all audiences and do justice to the survivors’ stories. He was mindful of his sensitive position as a non-Native filmmaker, and asked permission from every participant everyday, even if they had agreed to be filmed the day before.

 

“Lots of people who look like us went to the Native people wanting to tell their story and screwed it up. We didn’t want to be those guys,” he said.

 

SFF Festival Director and co-founder, Joe Cultrera, is grateful that SFF and PEM could work together on this special screening (SFF2019 is scheduled from March 29 through April 4). “When we find a film that might be too dated by the next fest, and we can bring the film team or participants for a post screening discussion, then we try to make something happen. “Dawnland” was a perfect fit, not only for us, but also for PEM’s programs concerning Native American culture,” he said.

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(L-R): Panelists Pender-Cudlip, Lesser, Adams and Schmidt at the post-screening Q&A.

 

“Dawnland” was produced by The Upstander Project, a filmmaking and educational collaborative created in Boston in 2009 to challenge indifference to injustice and raise awareness of the need for upstanders, especially among teachers and their students.

 

Upstander Learning Director Mishy Lesser, Ed.D., whose work focuses on genocide and human rights education, explained why her company undertook this project. “I was morally uncomfortable teaching genocide in faraway places without dealing with genocide here in this country. Upstander was founded to confront indifference to injustice,” she said.

 

She researched and wrote the five-inquiry “Dawnland” Teacher’s Guide, available for free at http://dawnland.org/teachers-guide/. The guide contains resources and tools to help teachers tell “the untold history of this land.”

 

“The goal is to get this teacher’s guide into the hands of every history and social studies teacher so people have the chance to know more than I knew growing up,” Lesser said. She referred to her schooling about the founding of America as “the history of the people on the boat.” She aims to teach those same lessons from the perspective of “the people on the shore.”

 

Several in the audience thanked Lesser for both making the film and creating the teacher’s guide. “This is something I knew nothing about. Students, especially in the lower grades, need to learn about it,” said one teacher who is using the guide in her classroom.

 

Adams has grown and healed a lot in the 4-5 years between first sharing her story with the TRC and today. “I don’t recognize that person as me,” she said of seeing herself in the film. “It’s like pulling the scab off a wound, letting the bad stuff out and rehealing.”

 

Initially skeptical, she now thinks “Dawnland” is both beautiful and necessary. “What’s the point in making a public statement if it’s just going to be archived somewhere?” she said.

 

“Dawnland” was sponsored by PEM with hospitality sponsorship by Salem Waterfront Hotel and Suites.  Community partners were: the Massachusetts Center for Native American Awareness, the North American Indian Center of BostonVoices Against Injustice (formerly Salem Award Foundation) and Salem No Place for Hate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jewish Book Month Speaker Series Opens on a High Note

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Grammy nominee and internationally acclaimed actress Alexandra Silber will perform at Congregation Shirat Hayam on September 26 at 7:30 to kick off the Jewish Book Month Speaker Series.

 

Alexandra Silber is a Jill of all creative trades. She is an internationally renowned Grammy-nominated American singer, writer, actress, composer and educator. She has performed on Broadway, in London’s West End, and on concert stages, including The Kennedy Center, Carnegie Hall and the 57th Grammy Awards.

 

On Wednesday, September 26 at 7:30 p.m. she will add the stage at Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott to her resume. Opening night of the Jewish Book Month Speaker Series spotlights Silber reading from her début novel, After Anatevka, sprinkling the reading with seven musical performances that reflect the chapter’s dramatic climax.

 

The 45-minute musical program is, according to Silber, a “fully dramatized piece of literary theater. The concert is a ven-diagram of reading and cabaret.”

 

Her novel is historical fiction, inspired by Silber’s portrayal of Tevye’s daughter, Hodel, in the 2007 Oliver-nominated West End production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” She had recently lost her own father to a long battle with cancer. “Every day for two years, I spoke Hodel’s final words, ‘Papa, God alone knows when we shall see each other again…’ Each time as Hodel said ‘goodbye,’ so did I,” she said by email.

 

Hodel disappears in the second act, following her true love, Perchik, to Siberia where he is imprisoned. Deeply haunted by her character’s courage, faith and fierce intellect, Silber felt compelled to chart the rest of Hodel’s mysterious passage. “I needed to know what happened to her. After Anatevka truly was a journey from stage to page,” she said.

 

Silber’s “spiritual autobiography” began in a largely secular household with a Catholic mother and a father whose lineage traced back to the Pale of Settlement. Although they exposed her to religious principles of theology, ethics and sociology, Silber was on her own to find her way regarding the concept of “God.”

 

Playing Hodel was a kind of “Judaism University” for Silber. “At 23-years-old, I took the work more personally, and interpreted it more thoroughly than I had ever done before. It was a turning point, with everything thereafter being interpreted through the eyes of a woman of faith,” she explained.

 

Writing After Anatevka was “part obsession, part socio-political battle cry, part spiritual autobiography and, above all, a marrow-deep roar for an ever-lasting tapestry of hope and faith,” Silber added.

 

The JBM closing event promises to be every bit as exciting when Emmy award-winner and former NBC News Bureau Chief Martin Fletcher discusses his latest novel, Promised Land.” The event is at the Peabody Essex Museum on Sunday, December 16 at 3 p.m., and includes a reception and an opportunity to visit the new “Empresses of China’s Forbidden City” exhibit.

 

In between, JBM Chair Diane Knopf is proud of a lineup that offers “something for everyone.” The committee tries to arrange its schedule to avoid conflicts with events at fellow North Shore agencies and synagogues. “The authors we request are in high demand on the speaker circuit, so dovetailing our dates with theirs can be challenging,” said Knopf.

 

Long a JBM tradition, Kernwood Country Club will again host an evening of dinner and conversation. On Thursday, November 15 at 6 p.m., Boston Globe columnist and entertainment reporter Meredith Goldstein will talk about her “Love Letters” advice column and her latest book, Can’t Help Myself: Lessons & Confessions from a Modern Advice Columnist.

 

Novelists Janna Blum (The Lost Family) and Ronald H. Balson (The Girl from Berlin) will speak at the JCCNS on Wednesday, October 10 and Thursday, October 18 at 7 p.m.

 

Local author Phyllis Karas will discuss Women of Southie, her true account of the women behind the scene during crime boss Whitey Bulger’s hey day. Three women featured in the book will attend the Tuesday, October 30 event at the JCCNS at 7 p.m.

 

Rounding out the roster is Ariel Burger, author, teacher, artist and rabbi, who was a lifelong student of Elie Wiesel. Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel’s Classroom chronicles his intimate relationship with the legendary Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor. The event is at Temple Sinai on Sunday, October 21 at 9:30 a.m. and is part of the temple’s Scholar-in-Residence program.

 

 

Jewish Book Month Speaker Series 2018-2019 is sponsored by cultural benefactors Sharon and Howard Rich. For reservations or more information, visit jccns.org or call 781-476-9909.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swampscott seniors stretch their minds and bodies at weekly Tai Chi and Sound Meditation classes

Benson and Snow

John Benson receives an adjustment from Nicor Snow (also known as Kāmpa Vāshi Déva).

Shelley A. Sackett

Since 2014, John Benson has travelled from his Nahant home to the Swampscott Senior Center every Tuesday to practice Tai Chi with Nicanor Snow. For Benson, who was a professional copy editor for an academic journal specializing in Asian and Western religion and philosophy, having the subjects he learned about all these years fuse in a single physical and mental practice is “quite satisfying.”

“When you feel the breathing and the movement coming together, then you know you’ve reached that special zone where you want to be,” he said. He practices with Snow twice a week, also attending his class at the Marblehead Council on Aging.

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Paula Peterson credits Tai Chi with helping her to “slow down.”

Bonnie Harmon and Paula Peterson have also practiced twice a week for four years with Snow, known too by his spiritual name, Kāmpa Vāshi Déva. Tai chi has changed them both. “We’re always running around. With Tai Chi, you have to calm down and go slow and think. It’s very refreshing,” Peterson said.

Harmon thinks the biggest change she’s noticed in herself is that she is more peaceful. “When I concentrate, my body gets tight. Tai Chi makes me relax my body,” she said.

Snow describes Tai Chi as “meditation in motion”, a practice that helps regulate the body and increase serenity. “Tai Chi is great for balance, posture and other health benefits. It is perfect for adults and seniors who really have the time to give it,” he said.

The class meets every Tuesday at 1 p.m. at the Swampscott Senior Center at 200R Essex Street. Walk-ins are welcome. The fee is $5.00.

Snow teaches 16 Tai Chi classes a week at different community senior centers in Swampscott, Marblehead, Lynn, Boxford, Lynnfield, West Newbury and Newburyport. His classroom is multi-level, with newer and more experienced students grouped together at different ends of the room. “Everyone learns the same way. They start at the beginning of the classical form, practice it, and after they’ve mastered it, they move on to the next step,” he said.

Snow’s niche teaching at senior centers fell into his lap. Marilyn Hurwitz, director of the Swampscott Council on Aging, saw his Tai Chi Institute mentioned on the back of a Boston Globe magazine, explaining the benefits of Tai Chi. She called Snow to see if he would teach in Swampscott. Other senior centers followed suit and before long, he was up to 16 classes a week.

Born in the Philippines, Snow’s family moved to the U.S. when he was a toddler. He discovered Tai Chi as a 22-year-old, after becoming “burned out” by his many years practicing Okinawan Karate. “I needed a change in my life. I read about Qigong and Chinese energy work in the back of a Kung Fu magazine and I wondered, ‘Where do I find that? How can I get involved?”

He found a Tai Chi school in Boston and in the spring of 1983 he started training with Master Gin Soon Chu and his son. Two years later, he began his healing studies at the Lea Tam Acupuncture Center in Boston with Qigong Master Tom Tam and Dr. Ping C. Chan.

In 2000, Snow established the Seacoast Tai-Chi Club in Kittery, Maine, which he renamed the Seacoast Tai-Institute when he moved to Portsmouth, N.H. He is an instructor and trainer of Tai-Chi Chuan, Qigong healing and meditation and certified by the American Organization of Bodywork Therapy of Asia.

In addition to Tai Chi, Snow is offering “Sound Vibration Meditation” on Tuesdays at 2 p.m., right after Tai Chi. The class explores kirtan, or Hindu cultural singing, combined with light stretching and breathing exercises. The fee is by voluntary donation.

“Kirtan brings peace to the world in body, mind and soul. When you’re chanting these mantras (a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation), there is a spiritual connection that happens through sound vibration,” said Snow, who brings his harmonium to accompany the chanters. “There is a healing aspect to the vibrations.”

Dennis Scolamiero and his daughter, both of Swampscott, attended both the first Sound Meditation and will be back. “It’s very moving. I’m proud to have evolved in the ways that support this,” Dennis said. “He loves to sing,” his daughter added. “It’s a great activity that we can do together.”

To those who have never tried Tai Chi, Snow offers this advice. “You have to have a lot of patience and give it a try for longer than you think. I try to coach people so they can feel the practice. You have to really feel the external movements to develop an understanding of what it feels like on the inside,” he said.

Harmon and Snow

Bonnie Harmon has been practicingTai Chi twice a week for four years.

Harmon, who hasn’t yet mastered the first form despite her four years of twice a week classes, agrees with the need to be patient. Asked if it is worth it, she replied with a huge smile, “We love him (Snow). That’s why we come.”