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Play About Revolt Against Romans Stirs Modern-day Revolt of Its Own

The audience, not the cast, provided most of the action at the opening of the controversial play “The Jerusalem Syndrome” at the Habimah Theater here Saturday night.

Although the play deals with war — the Jewish revolt against the Roman emperor Hadran (132-135 C.E.) — there was more violence in the aisles and galleries than on the stage. Scores of right-wing activists from the Herut, Tehiya and Kach parties came to the theater admittedly not to watch the performance of playwright Ychoshua Sobol’s latest drama, but to disrupt it.

They encountered leftists, or at least people more open to Sobol’s ideas. Fisticuffs broke out and curses were hurled across the theater as the actors tried vainly to make themselves heard above the din. Finally police entered to hustle out the demonstrators, many of whom clutched their seats and had to be dragged.

“The Jerusalem Syndrome” was the first work presented at the opening of “Original Israeli Play Week,” part of Israel’s 40th anniversary celebrations. It is a surrealistic treatment of the 2,000-year-old Jewish revolt, performed in modern idiom and modern dress.

“Television” announcers report “live” from the streets of ancient Jerusalem, as various groups of zealots battle Roman soldiers whose uniforms bear a strong resemblance to those of the Israel Defense Force.

The allegory is clear: IDF treatment of Palestinian rioters in the West Bank and Gaza Strip — a highly emotional topic given the back-ground of current events.

Likud members had sought for weeks to have the play banned. When it opened briefly at Haifa’s municipal theater last week, the local chief rabbi ordered the mezuzahs removed from the theater’s doorposts. His complaint was not about the play’s political content, but about its inclusion of female nudity and rough language.

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