Lawrence Wright brings Mideast conflict to stage

In this publicity image released by HBO, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright is shown in a scene from the one-man stage production of 'My Trip to Al-Qaeda.' In this publicity image released by HBO, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Lawrence Wright is shown in a scene from the one-man stage production of "My Trip to Al-Qaeda." (AP Photo/HBO, JoJo Whilden)
By Lauri Neff
Associated Press Writer / October 7, 2010

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NEW YORK—Exploring al-Qaida with a one-man stage show apparently wasn't enough for Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright. Now he takes on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the stage performance "The Human Scale," which has its premiere at the 3LD Art & Technology Center in Manhattan on Thursday night.

Based on his New Yorker essay, "Captives," Wright uses the capture of Israeli soldier Sgt. Gilad Shalit by Hamas-linked militants in Gaza in 2006 as an entrance into the violent tug of war over his return. Like his "My Trip to al-Qaida" play, Wright is alone on a sparse stage. He is in front of 14 screens displaying sometimes graphic photos and video that alternately serve as background to his narration and become the focus of the performance.

Wright talked to The Associated Press about the unique stage production, which runs until Oct. 31.


AP: What do you hope to accomplish with "The Human Scale"?

Wright: The whole goal of this piece is to try to widen the horizon of people who may already have very settled opinions about what's going on in the Middle East and it's those settled opinions that have, I think, prevented any kind of new movement in that region and we all see how frozen the process is. One reason for that is that nobody believes in peace any longer in that region and this play attempts to show how tragic things have become and how dangerous the direction is that we're drifting toward... We're hoping to take it to Israel for instance and if we can get to Israel, we'd like to take it into Palestine and maybe Gaza and possibly even some other Middle Eastern countries.

AP: What is it like to experience this performance night after night?

Wright: It's not easy. You know I've seen those images hundreds of times and I still have a hard time seeing them. I get emotional and I try to steal myself so that I can get through it without having my voice fall to pieces which can happen. The other night some woman was weeping in the front row and I had to not look at her because the emotions get so contagious.

AP: Why choose this forum to tell your story?

Wright: I had seen a lot of videos while I was doing my research for my article in The New Yorker that I began to think other people should see this stuff; other people should be aware of it because I spent a lot of time in the Middle East but I was shocked by many of the things I saw. I know that the people who live in the region are inured to much of this and maybe they've seen all these images in the past, but for most Americans, I think, it's unnerving to see what people are exposed to in that part of the world.

AP: How does the visual component affect the message of your story?

Wright: It makes is more visceral. Every medium has its advantages and weaknesses and there are many things I can put down on paper that I might not be able to put into film or into a stage performance. In each form, one can communicate powerfully in different ways. I had written my article. I had done as much as I could on that, but I felt that there was still something unsaid because of the limitation of the medium itself and in order to get this conversation advanced to a further level I wanted to be able to present people with the video and other imagery that would I think reach them in an emotional way and it's very difficult to do simply in a piece of journalism.

AP: In the play you propose that Palestinians and Jews may be the same people.

Wright: To me the notion that Palestinians are actually Jews is, I think, quite revelatory and very radical and a possible bridge that has been ignored, I think, in this entire controversy and there's ample evidence to support it... If it were to be the case, if Palestinians realize that they actually have these Jewish roots and if it were possible for the Israeli Jews to recognize that the Palestinians are actually their kin, then I think you could begin to undo some of the political constructs that have created such barriers.

AP: What's next?

Wright: I've got a play about the making of the movie "Cleopatra" and we're making a deal on it right now and I'm really thrilled about that. So my major characters are Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton and Rex Harrison and Eddie Fisher. I've had a wonderful time with that. I don't want to constantly be writing about terrorism and strife... I'm working on a long article for the New Yorker about Paul Haggis, the writer-director who dropped out of Scientology and I may be doing a book about that. I've got a lot of wonderful projects on my plate but this one is going to be part of my life for a while I think.