Authors: Jonathan Garfinkel
Ambivalence: Crossing the Israel/Palestine Divide
The Trials of John Demjanjuk: A Holocaust Cabaret
Walking to Russia
House of Many Tongues
© Copyright 2009 Jonathan Garfinkel
Playwrights Canada Press:
The Canadian Drama Publisher
215 Spadina Ave., Suite 230, Toronto, ON, Canada M5T 2C7
phone 416.703.0013, fax 416.408.3402
No part of this book, covered by the copyright herein, may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means—graphic, electronic, or mechanical—without the prior written permission of the publisher, except for excerpts in a review or by a licence from:
1 Yonge St., Suite 800, Toronto, ON M5E 1E5
For professional or amateur production rights, please contact:
Michael Petrasek of Kensington Literary Representation
34 St. Andrew Street
Toronto, ON M5T 1K6
phone 416.979.0187, email
Cover art and design by Carolyn McNeillie
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
House of many tongues [electronic resource] / Jonathan Garfinkel.
Electronic document issued in EBOOK format.
Also issued in print and PDF format.
PS8563.A646H69 2011c C812'.6 C2011-900633-2
Playwrights Canada Press acknowledges the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts, and of the Province of Ontario through the Ontario Arts Council and the Ontario Media Development Corporation for our publishing activities.
Dedicated to the real Alex, four a.m. by a piano in the Basement Theatre, Tbilisi,
and to Abu Dalo and Shimon, eternal neighbours.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the last taboo subjects of our times. In North America it is a topic discussed with great difficulty and is often met with resistance, fury and disgust. “Anti-Zionist” and “anti-Semite” are but two of the slurs I had thrown at me in response to my trying to engage this theme. The political and cultural climate is one that says we must be sensitive to history, politically correct and culturally sensitive. This is a tiresome argument for any writer; it just isn't kosher to criticize Israel or Palestine these days.
That I chose to explore this subject through theatre is not a novel approach. That I attempted to do so with absurdism and magical realism has to do with the reality of the situation: I wanted to capture something of the near-mythic levels of irrational madness that possess people in laying claim to a land as their own while excluding the other. This play is anti-warâwhich contains its own irrationality. But it is also about the way we repeat ourselves, again and again,
The play has seen various incarnations. In reading over the different versions leading up to this publication, I remembered a discussion with E.C. Woodley and Nikki Landau. We were watching the actors and the numerous drafts were scattered on the Tarragon stage. Opening night was approaching; there was yet another rewrite. We agreed that the scene in front of usâthe countless pages, the director trying a new line, me scratching another one outâmight make the most truthful version of the Israeli-Palestinian play: one that is constantly shifting, constantly arguing over right and wrong, and always failing. I hope there is something in these lines that acknowledges that mess.
House of Many Tongues
received its world premiere in German (Das Haus der vielen Zungen) at the Bochum Schauspielhaus in Bochum, Germany, in October 2008. It was translated by Frank Heibert and directed by Kristo Šagor.
A significantly revised version of the play premiered in English at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto, Canada, on May 5, 2009. It was directed by Richard Rose and featured the following cast and crew:
Abu Dalo, Mahmoud Darwish—Hrant Alianak
Rivka, Melissa’s Vagina, Shabak Agent—Nikki Landau
The Camel—Raoul Bhaneja
The House—Fiona Highet
Teresa Przybylski—set and costumes
E.C. Woodley—sound design
The text in this published edition is a slightly modified version of the Tarragon production.
The Palestinians are in Palestine because they have no other place in the world.
The Israeli Jews are in Israel for the same reason—they have no other place in the world.
This provides for a perfect understanding and a terrible tragedy.
If the olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears.
Shimon: The General, sixty-one
Alex: Author of the
, son of Shimon, fifteen
Rivka: The cousin and tutor of Alex, twenty-eight
Melissa’s Vagina: Female
The House: Female
Abu Dalo: Displaced Palestinian, the Writer, fifty
The Camel: Male
Suha: The daughter of Abu Dalo, object of Alex’s desire, fifteen
Mahmoud Darwish: Palestinian national poet, sixty
Shabak Agent: Female, thirties
Israel, 1988. By the Jordan River. SHIMON, in army fatigues, drinking beer.
We’re waiting here to kill or be killed.
Waiting for the enemy to speak its name.
If you look to the left,
you can see the wind blow dust around the hills.
They say this hill is holy.
Something or other was sacrificed here,
someone had a vision over there.
That’s what we’re killing for.
Something so holy even the earth will bleed.
Kill or be killed.
SHIMON washes his hands in the river. A basket floats toward him. Laughs.
And there’s the miracle. A basket. Floating on the Jordan River.
There’s a bundle with a baby on it. SHIMON removes the child from the raft.
What the fuck? A baby!
Doesn’t make a sound. Not a peep. Doesn’t even cry. You Moses or something?
Picks up his beer.
You want some, little brother?
You want a beer with me?
You’re not death, little brother.
You’re life. The land is your mother.
And that unknown something
that controls time and farts out our stinking fates
is your father. They gave us to each other.
Welcome to the Holy Land.
Welcome to your Home.
2003. A house in Jerusalem.
The bundle in the raft becomes ALEX, aged fifteen.
He holds a pen and a pad of paper. SHIMON, drinking beer, wears army fatigues.
Dad, who’s my mother?
The land is your mother. Are you writing this down?
May 15, 1988. The fortieth anniversary of our nation. And the birth of my son.
I don’t want to write this.
We write our history. Together. Father and son.
(He puts down the pen.)
I don’t want to.
Come on, kid. It’s our story.
I don’t like this story.
It’s your story. How you were born.
I want to know who my real mother is.
SHIMON presents ALEX with a gun.
Happy fifteenth birthday, Alex.
1934 German Mauser. I fought in the ’67 War with this. Defended and overcame with this. An entire hillside ours because of this gun.
ALEX reluctantly takes it.
That’s great, Dad.
It’s consistency. Better than any woman you’ll ever meet. Beautiful. Powerful. Reliable too.
This gun is not beautiful.
This gun is the Miracle of ’67.
From me to you.
I don’t want your gun.
You have to write the story of the gun.
The miracle of how you were born!
I don’t want to write your book.
Hope was you on a river arriving into my arms.
Hope was this house I found in the fucked-upness of war.
Hope was the birth of this nation!
Nearly sixty years ago, David Ben-Gurion had a vision for our people:
To be a light unto nations.
In one week’s time, your hero Ilan Ramon will be the first Israeli to travel
into outer space. This hope will become manifest.
That’s how great this country is.
We can send men to the stars!
This is the twenty-first century. I don’t believe in miracles. I don’t care how great this country is.
Sure you do.
I don’t care about outer space.
To tell a story, you have to start at the beginning.
We will write the truth.
Tell me who my mother is and I’ll write your story.
I give you this gun and you write our story.
(ALEX storms out.)
Help me write!
Help me be my eyes.
Happy birthday, Alexander.