Israeli playwright Joshua Sobol spoke with us just before the world premiere of his play The Last Act, presented by Israeli Stage and directed by Guy Ben-Aharon through June 1 at the BCA’s Calderwood Pavilion. Set in Israel, his sensual portrait of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is depicted against the backdrop of actors improvising an adaptation of the 1889 drama Miss Julie.
What was your inspiration for the play? The events that took place in Israel some three years ago. It began with kind of an intifada or uprising in the territories. Many of the attacks took place in Jerusalem, and it was basically individuals who decided to get a hold of a knife or something, and to go stab someone. And the reaction of Israel was to encourage people who had weapons in their possession to take their own guns and shoot everyone who was trying to stab them. … People’s nerves overrode them and they were very prone to get a hold of weapons and react violently.
Why did you decide to incorporate Miss Julie into the work? Somehow it occurred to me that there was something in August Strindberg’s play that could serve as a very sound basis for such an event because there is a kind of love story—it’s not exactly a love story—but a very strong sexual attraction between a woman who comes from the upper class and a servant who comes from the lower class. And this relationship that begins at a mid-summer night celebration leads at the end to a very tragic moment. … I felt this kind of structure of a man who comes from a different background—in our case it doesn’t happen on the level of class difference but he being a Palestinian and she being an Israeli—could take the same kind of development as in Strindberg’s play. So my idea was to create the situation where a Palestinian actor and an Israeli actress rehearse Strindberg’s play but try to improvise it and bring it closer to the Israeli-Palestinian situation.
Is there a message that you would like people to take away from the play? There should be contact between people, and the barriers should be torn down. What happens now is the opposite. There are fences and walls, and I must say that when we are in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians are protesting against the siege of the Gaza Strip. And they are coming to the fence and trying to express their revolt against the existence of these fences and the siege. Mainly, the answer that Israel is giving to it is fire by sniper, and people are being fatally wounded or killed. And I think that the answer should be totally different. We should come to the fence on both sides, and talk to each other, and start a kind of dialogue.