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February 15, 1991 - Image 68

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-02-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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68

FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 15, 1991

737-0160

EDWARD KARAM

Special to The Jewish News

I

n November 1985,
Jonathan Jay Pollard, a
United States naval in-
telligence analyst and a Jew,
was arrested for passing
classified information to
Israel. Mr. Pollard's arrest
embarrassed the Israeli
government and the
American Jewish community
because it raised uncomfor-
table issues of loyalties.
Can a Jew love the United
States and Israel equally?
Should Jews be loyal to other
Jews before their non-Jewish
countrymen?
Gordon Rayfield's play Bit-
ter Friends, which is being
presented by the Jewish
Ensemble Theatre at the
Maple-Drake Jewish Com-
munity Center through
March 3, is a schematic, fic-
tionalized attempt to address
the questions presented by
the Pollard case. The problem
is that Mr. Rayfield's
characters are not real peo-
ple; they're points of view.
Even T. Andrew Aston's set
suggests that geopolitics over-
whelms the characters. A
map of the Middle East stret-
ches across the backdrop, on
the flats, and on the floor,
from the Gulf of Sidra at the
left to Baghdad at the right.
But it's also an awkward
reminder that almost no
character seems to have any
life outside the debate.
David Klein, an idealistic
young Jew, has been passing
U.S. military secrets to an
Israeli agent named
Ephraim. Pursued by the
FBI, David, like Mr. Pollard,
seeks asylum at the Israeli
Embassy and is turned away.
Unlike Mr. Pollard, he has
been recruited by the Israeli
government (Pollard volun-
teered to spy), and he has
taken no money. He is also
the son of an Israeli war hero.
Most important, David
refuses to admit, even to his
wife, that the Israeli govern-
ment recruited and abandon-
ed him. The beleaguered Mr.
Pollard, whose wife knew
everything, took his case
public to win sympathy.
But David is not the central
character here. Instead, it's
Rabbi Arthur Schaefer, a pro-
minent American Jew and an
old friend of the Klein fami-
ly. Rabbi Schaefer fought

alongside David's father Sam
to establish the state of Israel.
Despite his initial condem-
nation of David, the rabbi
agrees to help him at the
behest of David's wife, Rachel.
David, however, refuses to
cooperate, so the rabbi in-
vestigates on his own. Along
the way, stepping forth to ad-
dress the audience as a nar-
rator, Rabbi Schaefer raises
important questions:
"What is the law?" "How
can we know what to obey?"
"Is Israel always right?"
Robert Grossman, a silver-
haired actor who resembles
Paul Scofield, has tremendous
presence as the rabbi, but he's
not convincing as the stand-
up comedian the rabbi brief-
ly was.
Dressed like a Wall Street
arbitrageur, Mr. Grossman
tries to be folksy and warm,
but he's too solemn, too stuf-
fy. Rather than being drawn
closer, the audience remains
distanced.
Rabbi Schaefer tries to un-
cover the truth through
meetings with a sympathetic
congressman, Frank Fit-
zgerald (Andrew L. Dunn);
with Ezra Ben-Ami (William
Premin), the ruthless Israeli
ambassador to the United
States; and with Wingate
Whitney (Charles W.
McGraw), a prosecutor with
the Justice Department.
None of these characters
has any depth, and under
Randall Forte's direction, the
actors settle for the obvious.
We know as soon as we see
Whitney's nameplate on his
desk that he will be a
caricatured WASP who is un-

sympathetic to Jews. Rather so
than tryiing to make him an
ingratiating bureaucrat as
well, Mr. McGraw presents us
with exactly the cold-hearted
bigot we expect. 4
The confrontations among
these four are like a gather-
ing of bulldogs. They begin
growling and within seconds
are barking loudly.
As David, Allan Fox is also
I
hampered with a character
who starts at one emotional
pitch and stays there. He ac-
cepts his martyrdom from
first to last and resents the
rabbi's interference.
He wants to be the Jewish
hero his father was. "I was
always taught to put the
Jewish people ahead of
myself," David tells his wife.
Only Stacie Passon as
Rachel manages to introduce
some doubt in David, and
that tension makes their 4
scenes the best in the play.
When David refuses to admit
Ephraim recruited him, he
says, "I will not betray
another Jew to save myself."
"I am another Jew," Rachel
answers. "Why are you
betraying me? . . . You pro-
mised to live with me the rest
of my life." When Rachel
visits David in prison, Ms.
Passon shows strength,
humor, confusion, tenderness
and anger, refusing to accept
David's bid to divorce her.
Though at times tentative
on opening night, Ms. Passon
has found a fascinating com-
plexity and vulnerability that
the other actors lack. Hers is
the one character whose
humanity shines through. ❑

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