Read House of Many Tongues Online

Authors: Jonathan Garfinkel

House of Many Tongues

Playwrights Canada Press
Also by Jonathan Garfinkel:

Ambivalence: Crossing the Israel/Palestine Divide

Glass Psalms

The Trials of John Demjanjuk: A Holocaust Cabaret

Walking to Russia

House of Many Tongues
© Copyright 2009 Jonathan Garfinkel

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Cover art and design by Carolyn McNeillie

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Garfinkel, Jonathan

House of many tongues [electronic resource] / Jonathan Garfinkel.

A play.

Electronic document issued in EBOOK format.

Also issued in print and PDF format.

ISBN 978-0-88754-962-5

I. Title.

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.

Playwright's Note

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-war—which contains its own irrationality. But it is also about the way we repeat ourselves, again and again,
ad nauseam

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 us—the countless pages, the director trying a new line, me scratching another one out—might 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.

—Jonathan Garfinkel

Berlin, 2011

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:

Alex—Daniel Karasik

Shimon—Howard Jerome

Abu Dalo, Mahmoud Darwish—Hrant Alianak

Suha—Erin McKinnon

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.

—Amos Oz

If the olive trees knew the hands that planted them, their oil would become tears.

—Mahmoud Darwish

Characters in Order of Appearance:

Shimon: The General, sixty-one

Alex: Author of the
Cunnilingus Manifesto
, 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

Act I
Scene 1

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.

L’chayim Moses!

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.

Scene 2

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.

The gun?

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.

My legacy.

From me to you.

I don’t want your gun.

You have to write the story of the gun.

Our story.

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.

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