When it comes to Israel/Palestine, Actor and Writer Danny Bryck isn’t the first to consider this question: “When everyone tells a different story, how do we tell the truth?” He may, however, be the first to work so hard to hear quite so many different stories that come from the thin strip of land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River.
In his documentary play The River and The Sea, which recently had a staged reading at The New Repertory Theatre in Boston as part of the “Next Voices” playwriting fellowship, Bryck uses transcriptions of interviews that he completed with individuals from all over Israel and the West Bank to create nearly sixty separate characters who represent everyone he met there, from a young soldier in Tel Aviv, to an Eritrean refugee, to a young mother in Gaza. Through these, and many more diverse characters, he gives voice to the vast cross-section of people who call Israel/Palestine home.
Bryck initially went to Israel on a Birthright trip, but instead of returning home when the trip ended, he stayed on in the Middle East and set out on a three-month-long adventure with the goal of interviewing as many varied people as possible in order to begin the process of writing a play. He wanted to get a more nuanced and deeper version of the narratives in this part of the world, and so, through friends, friends of friends, various organizations, and even through talking to strangers, Bryck found himself having opportunities that no guided tour could or would ever provide.
Bryck’s interviews ranged from fifteen minutes to five hours. Sometimes, he’d meet someone, spend the night on their couch, and then get introduced to someone else and then another. Sometimes he needed a translator or a facilitator, and sometimes an impromptu street conversation would turn into an interview or an invitation. There were days when Bryck conducted as many as seven interviews, and some days were filled with political rallies, protests, or other social events.
Perhaps the most significant thing Bryck discovered was the sweeping variance in stories when it comes to the idea of home and the idea of identity in this part of the world. With the conviction that each story deserves to be heard, and the understanding that what most of us believe to be the truth about this region is really only a small piece of the greater truth, Bryck created his play, at least in part to draw an audience’s attention to some of the injustices in Israel/Palestine.
The play itself is directed by Megan Sandberg-Zakian and uses eight actors to represent the multiple characters. Ninety percent of the play is a taken directly from Bryck’s interviews, and audiences will find themselves immersed in a non-linear, increasingly dreamlike progression of encounters. Using settings that are true to the setting of the interviews themselves, Bryck’s piece has sections that take place during, for example, a family dinner, or a political demonstration, each place highlighting the real situation in Israel/Palestine and the people who live it daily.
The team behind The River and the Sea is ultimately hoping to tour the work both in the USA and in Israel/Palestine. A recent Kickstarter campaign helped the team raise $9500 towards this goal. You can read more about this project and support it here.
It’s not common to have the opportunity to get to know so many sides of the same story, and to really reckon with the painful contradictions implicit to Israel/Palestine. By being open to the process of unlearning as much as to learning, Bryck has created a work that will undoubtedly provide a worthwhile challenge to both our intellect and our hearts, asking us to hear not only the stories that we already know, but to pay attention to the ones that make us uncomfortable or disoriented. Surely this work has the capacity to push audience members to make room for empathy, and to allow their definitions of their own identities to evolve and shift in order to begin to accept and even embrace the multiplicity of identities and stories that share the very small piece of land that is Israel/Palestine.