A Jewish Masterpiece
The following 3 scenes are all taken from Act 1 of A JEWISH MASTERPIECE, which was read at Ensemble Studio Theatre in May, 2004.
A JEWISH MASTERPIECE tells two stories: one is of Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism, who in his short life (he died at age 44) went from being a self-hating Jew to the "Modern Moses." To me, though, what is more fascinating than this political conversion, is that, even after creating and maintaining a worldwide political movement with annual congresses, Herzl thought of himself primarily not as a politician, but as a grievously overlooked, critically-ignored playwright.
Herzlís plays (ludicrous bedroom farces) and the theatricality of his world-changing politics are interwoven with a second story: that of the rise of Ariel Sharon, the violence that has accompanied Israel from its birth, and the frightening development of Herzlís utopian vision of a new kind of Jew.
The play is a work of imaginative fiction, but the broad histories of Herzl and Sharon are taken from fact. Several pieces of text have been pulled directly from Herzlís journals, and the creation and actions of Sharonís Unit 101 in Qibya are a matter of public record. - David Zellnik
Herzl clean-shaven, sits alone in his cafť in Vienna. Now and again he writes in his journal.
HERZL: March 1st 1891. Still hung over from the party Jacob dragged me to last night. What can be said of a party with so many ugly Jews in attendance? I counted 37 of them. It doesnít do the heart any good. Many brilliant plays suggesting themselves to me. But which one is to be my masterpiece? If I know anything at all, I know I have it in me to write the most profound comedy ever written for the Viennese stage... (Crosses out word) Any stage... (Crosses out word again) The Viennese stage. Where the hell is Jacob? I gave him my newest play over 14 hours ago -
A man pulls up a chair Ė Jacob, Herzlís age. He has brought a blond, attractive woman with him: Julie.JACOB: Theodor, Iím late. Iím sorry.
HERZL: Where have you been? I have been on tenterhooks! Have you read the play?
JACOB: How are you?
HERZL: I have lost the fire and inspiration of youth but come, have you read "Refugee From Romance?" Tell me all your thoughts, all of them, front to back.
JACOB: What have producers said?
HERZL: Ach, last week in Berlin I just had to grovel, grovel in excrement, just to get an audience with Herr Director of the Burgtheatre.
HERZL: Itís appalling. Appalling. You know and these artistic directors are so vain, so conservative and vain, so high-minded and conservative and god forbid they produce something the audiences actually like! God forbid they give a new writer a chance - no matter... (Stops himself, clears throat, reads note) "Dear Sir, thank you for allowing me to read "Refugee From Romance" Perhaps if there were people in this play, and not copies of approximations of clichťs lacking all dignity, we could find a place for it here at the Burg Theater." (He puts note down. A 180-degree turn) So itís no good, you hate it too, itís no good, fine. Now itís said. Itís no good.
JACOB: Itís no good.
HERZL: No good. See? I know. I am working on a new one though. Very profound. My masterpiece (seamlessly) is it really no good?
JACOB: No. Julie, may I introduce my friend, Theodor Herzl?
JULIE: Lovely to meet you.
HERZL: Romance with gentiles, nicely done.
JACOB: Sheís Jewish.
JULIE: The blond is natural.
HERZL: What if I move the Countessís revelation to the third act-?
JACOB: Dori I have news.
HERZL: Oh? (Jacob pauses) You found a job? (An idea) To get past the university quota youíre going to convert!
JACOB: Youíre horrifying.
JULIE: (Coquettish) Is he?
JACOB: You donít know the half of it. Our boy Herzl here once joined "The League of Germans for Preserving German Culture."
HERZL: I quit.
JACOB: They threw the Jews out.
HERZL: And to protest such a policy I resigned. I am very proud of my heritage.
JULIE: My parents will only let me marry a Jew.
HERZL: So... the news?
JACOB: (Swallows, steels himself. This is big news) Iím going to Argentina. Iíve asked Julie to accompany me. She says thatís the last place sheíd want to be.
HERZL: (Suddenly very serious) Youíre leaving me?
HERZL: You are my only friend here. I need you. You are the only man Ė person Ė I trust, love. In this whole miserable city!
JACOB: Canít you see? They are winning Ė
JACOB: The anti-Semites, Duhring!
HERZL: There are anti-Semites everywhere.
JACOB: Not everywhere. Baron Hirsch has bought thousands of acres in Patagonia as a refuge for Russian Jews fleeing from Cossacks-
HERZL: ( To Julie) Oh thank god, I can stand no more of that Russian ghetto trash in Vienna -
JACOB: You can come too.
HERZL: Do they have theatres there? (Silence) Opera? ( Silence) Cafes?
JACOB: They have coffee.
Straight Eye for the Consumer Guy
I'll Say Goodbye and Let you Go
Three Jewish Books on Sadness
The Other Jews: Secularism, Kabbalah and Radical Poetics
A Jewish Masterpiece
Our 580 Back Pages
Zeek in Print
Fall/Winter 2004 issue now on sale
From previous issues:
Tarnation: The Dream of Autobiography
The Desert and the City and the Mall