- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 18, 2000

Via Dolorosa is the "path of sorrows," the route Christians take to follow Christ's path to the Crucifixion in Jerusalem.

Englishman David Hare's play of the same name tells of his journey to the Middle East and the people he meets and interviews along the way. The production runs through Nov. 26 at Theater J, which is dedicated to Jewish theater.

The Author (David Bryan Jackson) chronicles the tale, not so much a play as a stream-of-consciousness narration.

It begins with an explanation of the events leading to the formation of the nation of Israel and the writer's visit 50 years later.

It ends with the Author's arrival back home in England and the realization that the country, in which he had no prior interest, is one he never will forget.

As a Westerner and a Christian, the Author follows a path through the Holy Land, acknowledging that Christianity plays a small, splintered part in it. It is a land dominated by Jews and Arabs, people more passionate and vastly different from those in his home country.

To better understand, he visits not only Israel, but also its "twin," Palestine.

Mr. Jackson assumes not only the character of the Author, but also those of the people interviewed along the way. The stage is unadorned except for chairs — a different one for each character and setting — and wineglasses or coffee cups, to wet Mr. Jackson's mouth for about 90 minutes of near continuous speech.

The journey takes him to Tel Aviv, then to the occupied territories, on to Gaza and finally to Jerusalem.

The Author speaks to people such as an Israeli playwright who did a production of "Romeo and Juliet" with Palestinians as the Capulets and Israelis as the Montagues. He also talks with the Palestinian director of the same play, a Jewish family living on disputed lands, and Israeli and Palestinian political figures.

All have different views on Israel.

Some speak of the biblical antecedents of Abraham settling the land; others talk of the acquisition of land after the Six-Day War. There also is talk of what is owed to Jews for past injustices and of the treatment of Palestinians in Israel. From the concept of Israel as a religious country to its being a secular nation, no one seems to have the same view of what the country's problems are — not to mention how to solve them.

Politics, names and events are mentioned in almost every conversation. The viewer needs more than a passing acquaintance with Jewish beliefs and Israeli history to fully understand their importance to the area.

The play unfolds like some sort of tour guide with descriptions of the landscape — the dilapidated houses in the territories, the dust that greeted the Author's visit to Gaza — and the people.

The more the Author sees, the more he tries to put all these images together to form some sort of understanding, a sort of patchwork quilt of different insights.

Mr. Jackson does a great job of portraying different characters with voice and body language, but he often rushes his words.

Because "Via Dolorosa" is a straight narration and Mr. Jackson either stands or sits, the play also at times seems monotonous, with little action in the story and no interaction.

After each performance, viewers can express their opinions at the Peace Cafe, which was designed to generate talk of the subjects raised in the play. Violence that has erupted in Israel recently serves as an ominous backdrop.

WHAT: "Via Dolorosa"WHERE: Theater J, 1529 16th St. NWWHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday, 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Final performance is Nov. 26.

TICKETS: $15 to $27PHONE: 800/494-8497

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