The psychological wounds gape wide in “Shame 2.0,” a documentary play about Israeli artists in conflict with their government and a verbally brutal public. One of the principals — Arab Palestinian actor Morad Hassan — is in the lean cast of three at Mosaic Theater, narrating some of his own experiences.
It’s a raw, uneasy 80 minutes. “Shame 2.0,” adapted by Israeli playwright Einat Weizman from the original play “Shame,” by Weizman and Hassan, is a deeply personal account, performed in a deceptively tranquil tone. Hassan is low-key as he describes his position as an Arab actor with dwindling opportunities in Israel, ironically hitting a peak playing the Jewish moneylender Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice.” Colleen Delany is similarly coolheaded as Weizman, whose drama “Prisoners of the Occupation,” plus a “Free Palestine” T-shirt, drew the wrath of Culture Minister Miri Regev (played by Lynette Rathnam and, for good measure, also seen in projected news footage).
That measured demeanor is countered by verbatim invective and vengeance as the government defunds theaters and campaigns against plays. A segment of the public vilifies Weizman, in particular, as an anti-Israel supporter of murderers and terrorists. (Weizman was in the audience Thursday night at the Atlas Performing Arts Center as Delany played her, with members of the audience reading aloud some of the vitriol she has endured.)
The subtitle of “Shame 2.0” is “With Comments From the Populace,” and those indisputably savage messages certainly throw the friction into stark relief. Everything about this project is uneasy, though. The densely packed, information-heavy presentation is a workshop at Mosaic, meaning it had a long preview period and is performed on a minimal set (though Dylan Uremovich’s news projections bring polish and urgency to director John Vreeke’s blunt staging). Artistic Director Ari Roth notes in the program that this U.S. adaptation was difficult at Mosaic: Creative differences cropped up even among allies. And of course Mosaic was born of related disputes over how to represent Palestinian issues in Jewish-supported art, as Roth was fired from D.C.’s Theater J four years ago.
Still, it’s valuable to get this report from Israel’s front lines. As you watch the grim Hassan’s self-reenactment and the desert-dry Delany as Weizman, what comes through is the effort to keep this telling calm, along with the frustrations of being activist artists in ferociously contested territory. A recent episode of NPR’s science podcast “Hidden Brain” used Israelis and Palestinians to illustrate how traumatized people have extraordinary difficulty hearing anything human about their “enemies.” That’s what you see in “Shame” — so many scars.
Shame 2.0, With Comments From the Populace, adapted by Einat Weizman from the original play “Shame,” by Einat Weizman with Morad Hassan. Directed by John Vreeke. Set, Jonathan Dahm Robertson; lights, Brittany Shemuga; costumes, Brandee Mathies; sound design, David Lamont Wilson. Through Sunday at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. $20-$65. 202-399-7993. mosaictheater.org.