Working in Israel’s mission to the United Nations and listening to the Israelis and Palestinians bickering, complaining and trading insults, the Jewish Australian actor Jeremie Bracka suddenly envisioned Yasir Arafat and Shimon Peres in American-style couples therapy. Thus was born “Arafat in Therapy,” in which Bracka portrays 20 different characters, each with his — or her — own perspective on the peace process. The hour-long parody will be performed this weekend at the United Solo Festival in Midtown.
Bracka, whose mother is Polish and whose father is Egyptian, trained as an actor in his native Sydney. He performed two other one-man shows, “Lox, Shmocks, and Two Smoking Salmons,” and “Enough About Me … Let’s Talk About Jew,” before taking a break to study law at NYU. He later worked for Israel’s Permanent Mission to the UN, for Ambassador Uri Savir (Israeli’s chief negotiator at Oslo), for the vice president of the Supreme Court of Israel, and for Israeli’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Directed by Pip Mushin, “Arafat in Therapy” has been performed in both Australia and Israel — for the Israeli run, Bracka altered the title to “Peres in Therapy.” Bracka performs a mix of characters that include his boss at the UN, Israeli and Palestinian authors, his own parents, an Israeli hasbara (“Israeli propaganda machine”) worker in New York, and a member of Socialites Without Borders (a fictional international aid organization) who teaches Palestinians how to “mingle.”
As Bracka, who now lives in Tel Aviv, told The Jewish Week, “Most people are disillusioned by the peace process.” The peace negotiations that he witnessed seemed, he said, “so farcical, with so much lost in translation.” Yet, he adds, both sides in the conflict have the same “hopes, dreams and desires.” While he has been often ben likened to Sacha Baron Cohen, Bracka compares himself more to Billy Crystal for the latter’s ability both to tickle the funny bone and tug the heartstrings.
Does the idea of the Israelis and Palestinians in marital counseling imply that the two peoples are already ensconced in an intimate relationship of some kind? Bracka thinks so. “For better or for worse, we are historically, geographically, and territorially bound to each other,” he said. “Our destinies are shared.”
Like a good couples therapist, the playwright himself scrupulously avoids taking sides. As a result, he said, his play has been embraced by both Palestinian activists and religious, right-wing-oriented Jews. “My characters are optimistic,” he said. “They know that it’s sink or swim.”
“Arafat in Therapy” runs Sunday, Nov. 3 at 6 p.m. (that show is virtually sold out) and Monday, Nov. 4 at 6 p.m. at the United Solo Festival at Theatre Row, 410 W. 42nd St. For tickets, $18, call Telecharge at (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com.