L&S America Online   Subscribe
Home Lighting Sound AmericaIndustry News Contacts

-Today's News

-Last 7 Days

-Theatre in Review

-Business News + Industry Support

-People News

-Product News

-Subscribe to News

-Subscribe to LSA Mag

-News Archive

-Media Kit

Theatre in Review: October 7 (The Actor's Temple)

Salma Qarnain, Jeff Gurner. Photo: Aaron J. Houston

In a year that has seen such magisterial works of documentary theatre as Agreement and Grenfell: in the words of survivors comes October 7, drawn from eyewitness accounts of the Hamas attack on Israeli citizens, which triggered the current state of war in Gaza. It is a distinctly different piece of work, however; the others mentioned above view their subjects through the lens of time; each also provides considerable background information and context, giving the audience a wide-angle viewpoint. October 7 is much rawer, a ripped-from-the-headlines account of bloodshed and terror. It is a work of advocacy, relentlessly focused on a single idea.

It can't be easy opening a theatre piece on this theme this week, with the displacement and starvation of thousands of Gazans in the headlines, the parents of 900 Israeli soldiers urging the government to call off the imminent invasion of Rafah, and, as General Wesley Clark noted recently on the relatively conservative network NewsNation, Israel so badly losing the war of ideas. October 7, which wants to address the latter problem, has all the signs of a work rushed into production, a choice that weakens its effort to win over hearts and minds.

Phelim McAleer's script, drawn from interviews, gives us little or no chance to sort out the characters, let alone get to know them, before plunging us into the atrocious events of that day. The violence and chaos come at us in a jumble, leaving us with no time to absorb an episode before it is replaced by something equally horrifying. And a show that would benefit from a certain stillness, relying on the sheer power of its words, is filled with distracting, fussily staged action by Geoffrey Cantor. Actors are forever running up and down the theatre's center aisle or flinging themselves on the stage floor to impersonate corpses; thus, unspeakable acts are turned into showy bits of stage business.

To be sure, certain moments can't help but stick in one's mind. Asaf, a student raised on a kibbutz, talks about the mental flash -- from, of all things, a South Park episode -- that reminded him of the correct posture to assume when under attack. Zaki, the middle-aged employee of a Coca-Cola distributor, drives into the attack zone, piling eight young people in a vehicle that accommodates five and leading a harrowing getaway only to later admit, "I broke Shabbat." Hadas, a woman visiting her family for the Simchat Torah holiday, spends a harrowing thirty-five hours in a safe room, emerging only to learn of a terrible loss. Yasmin, a doctor at a hospital in Beersheba, remembers an orderly's report that "people are coming with their organs, with their limbs in bags."

In the most awful moment, Michael -- who is deeply proud of his daughter, a stock trader -- tries to rationalize her death by bleeding: "At least she just was killed. She didn't was raped. She didn't... she wasn't burned alive. Only in Israel, only here, to be a parent and to say -- we feel happy because she just was killed and not more than that." October 7 is packed with such revelations, each too terrible to bear.

Still, this parade of horrors is poorly orchestrated and contextualized, with McAleer often failing to make the best use of his material. He doesn't make nearly enough of the fact that the killings began at the Nova Festival, a musical event that drew a crowd of young people, peaceniks, and members of the LGBTQ community. (The script does make it clear that some of the attendees escaped in a haze induced by ketamine and MDMA.) One of the more disconcerting things about the wave of pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses is that so many well-intentioned young people are unquestioningly throwing support to Hamas, a regime that routinely oppresses women and queer persons. (Indeed, Gaza is a surveillance society; today's Times describes how Hamas spies on Gazans, seeking to demonize those holding unpopular positions or engaging in extramarital sex.) But McAleer doesn't capitalize on the difference between a vibrant, diverse society and one ruled by fiat and religious oppression. Then again, you'll hear nothing about Israel's shocking unpreparedness for the attack, Benjamin Netanyahu's cynical manipulations, the country's polarizing political controversies, or the massive suffering caused by the invasion of Gaza. Nothing justifies the events of October 7, but pretending they happened in a vacuum is, in a word, dishonest.

In the final section, as the traumatized survivors try to process what has happened, they often speak in generalities. "There is so much hate in [the terrorists] that it is something I cannot imagine in a human," Zaki says. Tal, a producer of the Nova Festival, says, "I think this is not a war between two countries, or governments, whatever. It's a war between love and hate." Yasmin, the only Muslim in the character list, offers similar sentiments: "The division is between people who believe that violence is the answer and people who don't, people who believe in humanity and kindness and goodness and peace." Biliya, a mother of four, concludes. "They came from darkness. They came from the dark. But this? This is the promised land, for the people of Israel." Such comments are understandable, especially in the wake of so much bloodshed. But, curated by McAleer for a punchy conclusion, they bring everyone back to square one, a place marked by irreversible tribal hatreds.

It's possible that, with a streamlined cast of characters and better acting, design, and direction, October 7 could become a work of considerable power. But I don't know what it adds to a conversation that desperately needs to take place. Then again, given the quality of the production, I can't imagine it will be with us for very long. --David Barbour

(14 May 2024)

E-mail this story to a friendE-mail this story to a friend

LSA Goes Digital - Check It Out!

  Follow us on Twitter  Follow us on Facebook