With the 2014 New York International Fringe Festival upon us, one play stands out among the rest. Meron Langsner’s “Over Here,” presented by Mortal Folly Theatre, depicts an unlikely friendship between a Palestinian-American and an Israeli immigrant in the rubble of the Twin Towers.
Although the journey from page to stage has been over ten years in the making, Langsner's play remains highly topical. However, the genius of art — theatre, especially — is to call a cease-fire in the middle of our workweek, to force the audience to take a moment not to look at the conflict from without, but to wrestle with the person within.
The Jewish Week caught up with Langsner to ask him about his new play.
JW What was the spark for writing this piece?
ML I first started this piece in 2003 during the first year of my MFA at Brandeis University during an exercise in an elective course I was taking on Israeli Film. I was still relatively fresh from NYC and processing the events of 9/11 (the World Trade Center was my subway stop—and the documentary play I wrote about that experience was just recently anthologized by Bloomsbury).
Some of the exchanges in “Over Here” are actually echoes of an experience I had working on a short film in the summer of 2001 where I was the first assistant director, and the director of photography was a Palestinian-American. The jokes that were flowing between the two of us made some people who heard us uncomfortable, while they amused the hell out of us personally.
JW So, would you call “Over Here” a 9/11 play?
ML “Over Here” is very much a 9/11 play. It is also a play about what it is to be American. Boston did not have the diversity that I am so accustomed to in NYC, and as a first generation Israeli-American, I felt “foreign” there in ways that I did not at home, even at Brandeis.
In the aftermath of 9/11, while we were regularly having bomb scares and alerts here, there were actual attacks and bombings in Israel. I was in constant fear for my friends and family over there, while still dealing with my own PTSD from 9/11.
JW The first incarnation of this play was titled, “B’Shalom.” What has been the response to your work thus far?
ML Well, the first time I brought a piece of it in to my workshop class at Brandeis, the instructor threw it on the ground and cursed at me. This was not a man who was especially professional, but that was a new low even for him. It also meant that I was probably onto something.
The play has had several readings and has won some awards, but this is the world premiere. It won an award from Region 1 KC/ACTF and was voted an audience favorite at the Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska. At two of the readings that it's had, New Repertory Theatre and ACTF, people made a point of coming to yell at me for my portrayal of the situation in the Middle East, particularly that I had an Israeli character speak very blatantly about terrorism and violence.
Many people have told me that they loved the play but that it was controversial for them. (However, there were no such issues in Alaska for some reason!)
JW Tell us a little about the Fringe 2014 NYC production.
ML Something I find really interesting going into this iteration is that the director, Katherine Harte-DeCoux, has no personal ties to the Middle East herself. She was drawn to the play because of the human story about friendship—while the two lead actors, who are Indian immigrants, were attracted to the project because it is in part a story about the immigrant experience.
I am sad to say that recent events make this play more topical than I would like, but as it is very much a story about seeing the humanity in the other, I hope that it makes some contribution to a more sophisticated understanding of a very complicated conflict.
"Over Here" is being presented by Mortal Folly Theatre at FringeNYC Venue #11, Paradise Factory Theater, 64 East 4th Street (Bowery & 2nd Avenue) from Wednesday, August 13 through Sunday, August 24, 2014. "Over Here" is directed by Katherine Harte-DeCoux, featuring Mohit Gautaum, Naren Weiss, and Mickey Ryan* (member Actors’ Equity Association).
Emily C. A. Snyder is an internationally published and produced playwright, as well as the Artistic Director of Turn to Flesh Productions, bringing new plays with Modern Themes in Classical Styles to NYC audiences. TTF’s 2014 Monthly Workshop Series is pleased to feature Meron Langsner’s retelling of Faust, “The Devils Own Game” in October. She is a member of the staff of The Jewish Week.