Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Fringe Day 10, Part 2 - August 15, 2004, 4:00pm

Alan Berks
Pillsbury House Theatre

(Well, I was about a paragraph into this review this morning and then the fire alarm went off in my apartment building. So, since I was already dressed for work and the sirens were blaring, I just closed up the laptop and left. Sadly, this also means I left all hope of wi-fi access behind for the day. Since I have returned to find my dwelling not a charred ruin after all, it's time to sign off on the last of these little missives about Fringe shows...)

Mixing the personal and political, particularly in a solo show, can be tricky. One needs to strike just the right balance. If you focus too exclusively on your own problems, you seem petty in comparision to the larger problems facing society. If you focus too exclusively on politics, the story can lose its human dimension and you come off as didactic, just a performer bludgeoning an audience with their point of view and allowing no room for gray areas or compromise. Goats strikes the right balance.

On the face of it, it appears at first to be a story of a young man's journey of personal discovery - both about himself as an individual, and about his heritage. But it is the location of that journey and the nature of that heritage that lets the audience know almost immediately that this story is going to be about something larger. Alan Berks may be herding goats on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere, but the middle of nowhere is the middle of Israel - with Jerusalem in sight on one side of the mountain, and the West Bank in sight on the other. And the time is shortly after Prime Minister Rabin was assassinated, by one of his own people. The Jews, the Muslims and the Christians all agree that, though God is everywhere, God is closer to Jerusalem. And where different visions of God collide, there's always trouble.

Sadly, the Middle East hasn't changed much for the better since Alan's original journey. The personal, political and religious are all closely linked together. But rather than making politics more humane, issues of religion tied to the land just make the fighting that much more vicious. This seems removed from Alan's mountaintop lessons in goatherding - at first. However, left with time to think, even as he scrambles to learn the basics of keeping the goats in line, the larger picture and civilization's troubles are constantly finding him. Even the few people he meets in the course of his duties on the mountain each come to represent in their own way, multitudes of other people, each group with its own stake in the outcome of the region's battles, each sustained by hope but often blinded by outrage and hatred.

This probably makes the show sound much bleaker than it actually is. Though it deals with weighty matters, this show, in putting a human face on a large and complex issue, finds generous doses of humor among the ruins. Alan Berks is a charming and genial presence on stage. His willingness to poke fun at himself, not just at others, as well as his open admission that he has no real answers, makes this an extremely accessible piece of theatre - even for the Gentile writing this review.

I've heard tell that this piece was originally a full-length evening of theatre, pared down to this one hour size for the purposes of the Fringe Festival. Since the show left me wanting more, in a good way, I'd be interested in seeing the fuller script to find out what else I can learn about a subject I'm woefully underread on.

Many of the great leaders of Israel - Moses, David, even Rabin - started their careers has goatherds. Once you learn to tend a flock of creatures bent on nothing more than eating and basic survival, more complicated living things, such as humans, become a little easier to deal with. Alan Berks has the goats figured out. Thankfully, now he's moved on to the rest of us.

For more information on Alan and his plays, check out www.alanberks.com

(For more of my writing - plays, past blog entries and more - visit www.matthewaeverett.com)

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