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Review: The Elusiveness of Peace Brought To the Fore In ‘Yitzhak Rabin: Chronicle of an Assassination’ at Lincoln Center Festival

By Joshua Rosenblum, Contributing Writer, July 20, 2017

In this era of dismal, seemingly endless intractability in the Middle East, it’s startling to be reminded that, not too long ago, the prospect of peace between Israel and Palestine was tantalizingly close. That reminder, and the horrible suddenness with which the dream was shattered, is part of the powerful impact of Yitzhak Rabin: Chronicle of an Assassination, presented by Lincoln Center Festival on July 19. The play, directed by Amos Gitai and co-written by Gitai and Marie-José Sanselme, primarily covers the period between the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords in September 1993 (emblemized by the iconic photo of President Bill Clinton encouraging the handshake between Rabin and Yasser Arafat) and October 6, 1995, when Yigal Amir, an ultra-right wing Israeli student shot Rabin point-blank as he was leaving a peace rally.

Throughout the piece’s ninety-minute duration, we experience the events leading up to and immediately after the tragic shooting primarily through the eyes of the Prime Minister’s widow, Leah. Mrs. Rabin is portrayed by two gifted, intensely committed actresses, Sarah Adler and Einat Weizman. It’s never explicitly clear why Leah is played by two people, but the seamlessly alternating delivery of Adler and Weizman soon makes it seem perfectly natural. The two women sit at a table, facing each other, and occasionally move to standing mics at the front of the stage. The play, an unadorned yet gripping presentation, is quite successful at capturing the juxtaposition of Leah’s deeply personal tragedy with its global importance: the fact that “the Nation had been plunged into a historical catastrophe without precedent.”

Music plays an important part in the drama. Gitai clearly understands and reveres the dramatic power of music, and the selections are exceptionally well-chosen. Three musicians were onstage throughout: pianist Edna Stern, soprano Keren Motseri, and violinist Alexey Kochetkov. Motseri gave an intensely felt rendition of Luigi Nono’s angular yet lyrical solo vocal piece Djamila Boupacha, while blurred, fragmented video of the run-up to the moment of the shooting was projected in the background. Later, as Leah described seeing her husband dead in his hospital bed, Motseri’s raw, impassioned performance of a prayer setting by Jewish liturgical composer Louis Lewandowski was hauntingly effective. Violinist Kochetkov also made impressive, well-judged solo contributions, and he and Motseri performed some moving and ruminative duets by Swiss composer Jürg Frey. Pianist Stern’s sensitive, immaculate performances of several Bach pieces, including some preludes and fugues from the Well-Tempered Klavier, were searching and contemplative. The timeless perfection of Bach fused mesmerizingly with the tragic backdrop of the play, as if forcing us to confront the inexplicable paradox that our world can contain both exquisite beauty and grisly violence.

The video excerpts are also essential to the impact. At one point we see a young Benjamin Netanyahu, then leader of the opposition Likud party, exhorting a vociferous crowd to “get rid of Rabin.” While there are no specific accusations in the play, and Netanyahu has condemned the assassination and specifically denied any form of incitement, it’s hard not to connect some dots while observing the protesters shouting “Death to Rabin!” in response to Nethanyahu’s speech.

(l. to r.) Hiam Abbass and Sarah Adler in ‘Yitzhak Rabin: Chronicle of an Assasination;’ still from the performance video, Festival d’Avignon.

In the second part of the play, the narrative voice shifts from Leah’s first-hand descriptions to historical reflection as to what might have happened had Rabin lived (“We will never know if the world could have been a better place today”). At this point, with no music or video, it seems more like a lecture than a play, albeit an enormously engrossing one. The drama picks up again when Adler and Weizman track the assassin’s movements the day of the shooting. At one point when, as Adler put it, “he was very close—some fifty centimeters away,” there was an audible gasp from the audience.

Adler and Weizman also deliver excerpts from Julius Caesar (which recounts another historic assassination) and from an Oscar Wilde poem, which includes the thought-provoking line “Yet every man kills the thing he loves.” And the play closes with a passage from Ecclesiastes: “A time to love and a time to hate/A time for war, and a time for peace.” Now that the future of the region seems, inexplicably, to lie in the hands of a stunningly unqualified Presidential son-in-law, this poignant reminder that not too long ago the momentum was on the side of Middle East peace lands with a particularly tragic impact.

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Yitzhak Rabin: Chronicle of an Assasination presented as part of Lincoln Center Festival on July 19, 2017 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center. Written by Amos Gitai and Marie-José Sanselme. Music: J.S. Bach, Jürg Frey, Louis Lewandowski, Luigi Nono. Directed by Amos Gitai; lighting design by Jean Kalman. Cast: Sarah Adler, Einat Weizman; pianist: Edna Stern; soprano: Keren Motseri; violin: Alexey Kochetkov.

 

Cover:  (l. to r.) Hiam Abbass and Sarah Adler in ‘Yitzhak Rabin: Chronicle of an Assasination;’ photo: Christophe Raynaud de Lage.


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