Playwright Danny Bryck traveled thousands of miles to the Middle East and spent months interviewing both Israelis and Palestinians to research his documentary play, “The River and the Sea.” Now Bryck is launching a Kickstarter campaign, starting today and running through March 28, to bring his work to the stage. I asked him what river and sea he’s talking about, and how a play can be a documentary. You can catch a staged reading of “The River and the Sea” at the New Repertory Theatre in Watertown on Monday, March 24, at 7:30 p.m. For more information on Danny, visit dannybryck.com/theriverandthesea.
Congratulations on the Kickstarter campaign! Tell me about “The River and the Sea.” What river and sea are you talking about?
There are a lot of names used to refer to Israel and Palestine, and just by the name you use, you’re already coming down on a side. Whether you say the West Bank, Occupied Territories, Palestinian Authority or Judea and Samaria, it immediately reveals a lot about your perspective. But people also, I think rather poetically, speak of “the land between the river and the sea,” meaning the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, and this stuck with me because it’s a decidedly apolitical and non-nationalistic way of referring to the land. It’s no respecter of persons, if I can borrow a phrase from the New Testament. Although it’s often said in the context or with the subtext of “all the land between the river and the sea should belong to us and not them,” to me there’s something beautiful and maybe redeeming about the phrase itself.
There are all sorts of people living on the land between the river and the sea—not just those we most easily picture when we think of Israelis and Palestinians, but Sudanese refugees, Filipino migrant workers, Ethiopian Jews, Armenians, Druze, Samaritans and immigrants from all over the world—and all their stories are equally valid and deserve to be heard. The idea of the play was to capture the voices of as many different people as possible living in this same place, for all their different reasons and with all their different backgrounds, some of which we expect and some of which we don’t.
We all have preconceived assumptions about the conflict in Israel and Palestine. Did any of yours going in dramatically change as a result of this project?
Yes, all of them. I learned a great deal. That doesn’t mean I can now tell you what I think the solution is. It’s very complicated. But knowing it’s complicated and understanding how and why are two very different things. And there are some really clear injustices being perpetrated that are not excusable merely because it’s complicated. Mostly for me it was a process of my understanding becoming deeper. My challenge to myself with this project is to represent and honor the nuanced truth of each individual person, and also try to provide a clearer picture of the situation as a whole.
Our readers might not be familiar with the idea of a “documentary play.” Can you explain the term and give some examples folks may have heard of?
A documentary play is a piece of theater based on real events or written using the words of real people. The “characters” in the “The River and the Sea” are the real people I met and spoke with in Israel/Palestine, and their “lines” are the real words they said. Like documentary film, it’s often a way to go beyond the headlines and sound bites we get from mainstream media and explore current events and important issues in more depth and with more humanity. What’s great about documentary theater is you’re getting a true document of what happened, but it’s been transformed into something theatrical also. A lot of people know “The Vagina Monologues” or “The Laramie Project,” or the work of Anna Deveare Smith, and these are examples of documentary plays.
You also work as an accent and dialect coach. What’s your favorite accent to do and what’s the hardest one to teach?
The hardest dialect to teach is American! And I say that because when I’m teaching a general American dialect, it’s mostly for people who speak English as a second language and who are trying to “reduce” their accent; that’s a much trickier proposition than learning to do a different accent or dialect in your mother tongue, which is usually the case when I’m working with actors who need to learn an accent or dialect for a play.
I like a lot of lesser-known British and Irish dialects, like those from the north of England and Ireland, and Wales. Recently I had the unusual task of inventing a semi-fictional dialect for dwarves for a production of “The Hobbit,” and it wound up being an amalgam of some of those. And Israeli and Palestinian accents are both really fun. I’m looking forward to working on them.
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!
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