Alternative Transnationals: Naomi Wallace and Cross-Cultural Performances

And this also holds true in the third, and most dreamlike, vision in The Fever Chart, “A State of Innocence.” This final, though typically first performed, vision tells the story of an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian woman meeting in a zoo in Rafah, a city in the Gaza Strip, alongside the architect of the zoo. As with “Between This Breath and You,” “A State of Innocence” tells the story of a meeting between two intimately related people from either side of the Israeli occupation. And, once again, it begins with tension between the two parties, brought by their preconceptions of one another:

YUVAL (Threatening): [ . . . ] Are you a terrorist?
UM HISHAM (Playfully): Paletinorist. Terrestinian. Palerrorist. I was born in the country of Terrorist. I commit terrible acts of Palestinianism. I eat liberty from a bowl on the Wall. Fanatic. Security. Democracy.
YUVAL: Don’t get playful with me. You want to throw me in the sea.
UM HISHAM: I just might. But I can’t get to the sea. Seventeen and a half checkpoints keep me from it.33

Figure 3., Yuval (Ahmed Omar) crawling to Hisham (Amira Gabr) in A State of Innocence at the AUC. Courtesy of Frank Bradley.]
Figure 3., Yuval (Ahmed Omar) crawling to Hisham (Amira Gabr) in A State of Innocence at the AUC. Courtesy of Frank Bradley.]

Set in the middle of the Second Intifada, the play begins with the tension between the people on either side of the occupation, tensions that cause a young soldier to believe that even a middle-aged mother is a threat to him because she is Palestinian. However, the structure of occupied violence returns when Um Hisham explains to Yuval how she knows who he is, telling him that soldiers in his unit beat her husband because they could not find weapons in Um Hisham’s house. Yuval stopped the beating, and, to thank him, Um Hisham made him a cup of tea. However, as he put the cup of tea to his lips, a single bullet from a sniper pierced his head. When he dropped to his knees, he looked to Um Hisham and said, “Hold me,” which she did, telling him in the zoo, “Three minutes. It took you three minutes to die. Everything I have despised, for decades—the uniform, the power, the brutality, the inhumanity—and I held it in my arms. I held you, Yuval. (Beat) But it should have been your mother. We should hold our own children when they die.”34 Um Hisham continues to explain that because Yuval died in her house, the Israeli military bulldozed the house and arrested her husband, and that the zoo they are in is the one that lives on in their minds, where she can visit Yuval as she visits her daughter. This dream-like aspect was underscored in the Egyptian production, which used a minimalist set, with only a few stairs and wooden latticework behind the characters to emphasize the unreal world they were in, as well as the openness of the possibilities before them in such a space.

In this way, “A State of Innocence” also explores the closeness between the occupier and the occupied, and how their lives, and deaths, are inextricably linked to one another and are even tied together after death. And, as with the other plays, it provides an image of the oppressed providing comfort to the oppressor, showing humanity in spite of the occupation; in this play, though, the Israeli soldier had also shown a moment of compassion to Um Hisham, a moment that would cost him his life, as crossing the borders of political divide, sadly, too often does. However, as Wallace writes, it is only in those moments of crossing, in the creative transgressions, in the most intimate forms of transnational community that a better world can be imagined, that that vision can exist, in the mind, on stage, or in life. The inverse of this is an idea that Wallace understands when she states, “What could be more intimate or personal than the fact that we get up in the morning, kiss our loved ones, go to work, come home, pay our taxes—and those taxes from our daily labor are used to kill you and you and you, and I never saw your face nor knew your name.”35 If the violence of occupation is formed from the product of our daily lives, the resistance to such violence needs to take an equally personal form.

Unfortunately, writing such visions comes with its own cost as well. As Wallace has revealed about attempts to stage her collaborative work Twenty-One Positions, a Cartographic Dream of the Middle East, “before Lisa, Abed [the co-writers], and I had set foot in the Guthrie Theatre, the dramaturg there accused us of writing in a way that supported terrorism.” According to Wallace, “The conversation about Israel and Palestine is the most censored conversation in the U.S. today. And it’s not an easy conversation to have in Britain either.”36 Furthermore, The Jewish Chronicle, writing of the British production of The Fever Chart, ended with the note that “plays about this conflict have to deliver more than a depiction of mutual suffering.”37 And, as with the Guthrie’s decision to forego a production of Twenty-One Positions, most non-academic theaters avoid Wallace’s work, just as the American press largely chooses to ignore the few productions of her work that are mounted.