The ‘Fire’ This Time
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The ‘Fire’ This Time

Ted Merwin’s column appears monthly. He writes about theater for the paper and is the author of the award-winning “Pastrami on Rye,” a history of the Jewish deli.

‘I always wanted to write a play about both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Argentinian playwright Mario Diament reflected recently, as his new work, “Land of Fire” (Tierra del Fuego), was about to open in New York at the New Yiddish Rep ([212] 868-4444, smarttix.com). Based on the 1978 attack by Palestinian terrorists of an El Al passenger jet in London, in which one flight attendant was killed and eight crew members wounded, “Land of Fire” runs through Jan. 3 at Theater for the New City in the East Village.

Diament teaches journalism and playwriting at Florida International University in Miami. His dramatic works — including “Blind Date,” inspired by the magical realist novels of Jorge Luis Borges, “The Book of Ruth,” about a Jewish mother dealing with the legacy of Argentina’s Dirty War, and “Lost Tango,” about the film industry in Buenos Aires — have been produced all over the world. “Land of Fire,” which premiered in Stockholm in 2012, has been running in Buenos Aires for the last three years; it opens in Madrid in April.

Directed by Moshe Yassur (who helmed this season’s production of “Death of a Salesman” for the same theater company) and translated into English by Simone Zarmati Diament, “Land of Fire” was inspired by “My Terrorist,” the 2002 prize-winning documentary written and directed by Yulie Gerstel Cohen, a flight attendant who survived the machine gun and grenade attack. In the film, Cohen comes to believe that the occupation causes even more harm to the Israelis than it does to the Palestinians, and that the Israelis can “afford to be forgiving.”

In “Land of Fire,” Yael (Dagmar Stansova), the stewardess based on Yulie, feels compelled to visit the convicted bomber, Hassan (Mihran Shlougian), to try to understand his motivations for committing the crime. When Hassan asks her to write a letter to allow him to leave prison each day to go to a job, she must decide if she, against the bewilderment and outrage of her dead friend’s mother, Geula (Marilyn Lucci), and her own husband, Ilan (Scott Zimmerman), can offer him that aid. The title refers both to Israel and to the archipelago beneath South America, where Hassan has always dreamed of going.

“Land of Fire” asks searching questions about whether or not the indelible scars of hatred and violence can help enemies, as Diament told The Jewish Week, to “confront the consequences and causes” of war and bloodshed in the Middle East.

The playwright said that he was moved by the film’s argument that traumatized Israelis and Palestinians need to talk to each other, “breaking the vicious circle of four generations of Israelis learning to be occupiers and four generations of Palestinians living under the occupation.”

The director, Yassur, echoed his sentiments, saying that “‘Land of Fire’ is a very optimistic play in that it suggests that the situation will be brought to a conclusion. But first, people who are thirsty for power have to relinquish that power.”

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