“Five hundred thousand people were in the streets,” says “Boged” playwright Boaz Gaon of the protests that began in the summer of 2011. “Out of a country of 7 million, it was an amazing, amazing experience.”
The cost of food and housing were among the issues that led protestors to camp out in tent cities in Tel Aviv. Like the Occupy movement, the agenda was broad, and sometimes was accused of being vague. Health care, education, the concentration of wealth into the hands of a few — the list of concerns was long. And it included the environment, a problem that had captured the attention of Nir Erez, Gaon’s co-writer, a year before the social justice movement began.
Erez was a fan of “An Enemy of the People,” Ibsen’s 1882 play about a whistleblowing scientist who declares that the waters in his spa town are toxic. The scientist is silenced not only by the mayor (who is also his brother), but by a mob anxious to protect their jobs at any cost.
He had proposed adapting it for the Beer Sheva Theater, where he is on the artistic council. Beer Sheva is a growing city in the Negev desert; just outside Beer Sheva is Ramat Hovav, a vast industrial park. Since 1975, Ramat Hovav has been an economic driver in the underdeveloped region.
But it has also been the largest toxic waste dump in the country. Giant evaporation ponds were built at Ramat Hovav for wastewater. Gaon says, “You go and see it, it’s like miles of holes in the desert.”
The ponds leaked, polluting the groundwater, and the air wafting from the factories into Beer Sheva often smells.
Erez says, “You didn’t have to have great imagination to see that you can take this play and put it in this situation.”
Erez, 47, asked Gaon to collaborate on the “Enemy” adaptation in part because Gaon, 40, has spent much of his career as a journalist.
But Erez, who often looks to Gaon to help him find the right English word to complete a thought, had another motivation for recruiting his friend.
“I am lazy,” the wiry Erez says with a charming smile as Gaon grins. “He knows how to work hard.”
“Boged (Traitor)” is the second play in Theater J’s “Voices From a Changing Middle East” festival, which began last month with “Apples From the Desert,” a drama of religious fundamentalism vs. youthful progressivism. Gaon’s “Return to Haifa,” adapted from the 1970 novella by Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani, created substantial friction for Theater J when it was part of this festival two years ago, but that’s not why his “Boged” is being staged at Georgetown. Scheduling conflicts with a film festival at the D.C. Jewish Community Center auditorium prompted the move, according to Theater J artistic director Ari Roth.