The question is obvious. Why would anyone, eager for an evening's entertainment at the theatre and in their right minds, want to spend 55 bucks for a ticket to see David Hare, the British playwright (Racing Demon, Ivanov, Slag, Plenty, A Map of the World, The Secret Rapture, Skylight, Amy's View, The Judas Kiss, and The Blue Room) stand on a Broadway stage and give a 90-minute lecture on his recent visit to the Holy Land?
The answer is surprising. Because the effort, titled Via Dolorosa and opening tonight at the Booth Theatre, is both an intelligent and emotionally engrossing bit of journalism - one is tempted to call it Social Anthropology - about Hare's odyssey in the Middle East and a sharply focused work of art. And Hare, thanks to the superb direction of Stephen Daldry (the Tony winning director, recently represented on Broadway with An Inspector Calls) shows himself to be an easygoing and intriguing performer with enough confidence in his material to have fun with it.
In Via Dolorosa, Hare describes his journey and conversations with both Jews and Arabs and we clearly see and understand, perhaps for the first time, the passion of their beliefs and the irreconcilable differences between them. Hare describes their arguments with a straightforward honesty which allows Via Dolorosa to come to life with intellectual and emotionally based debate, humor, and finely detailed and captivating images. Ultimately, if nobody can adequately respond to his repeated question "what is the way forward?" at least we benefit from the question having been asked. Sometimes, it seems, the only thing disparate peoples may have in common is a lack of answers.
I imagine a lot of people are going to quibble in the coming weeks about whether or not Via Dolorosa is a play and if it really belongs on Broadway. If you believe, as I do, that good theatre encompasses intelligent communication and the free expression of thought-provoking observations and ideas, whatever the form, you won't waste any time on such nonsense. You'll be standing behind me on line to buy a ticket.
Via Dolorosa, written and performed by David Hare. Directed by Stephen Daldry. Set design by Ian MacNeil. Lighting design by Rick Fisher.
Theatre: Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th Street, New York, NY 10036 (between Broadway & 8th Avenue)
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
Dates and times: Monday through Saturday at 8 P.M., Wednesday and Saturday at 2 P.M. (No performance Monday, April 5.) Beginning May 3, Tuesday through Saturday at 8 P.M., Wednesday and Saturday at 2 P.M., Sunday at 3 P.M.
Audience: May be inappropriate for children 12 and under. Children under 4 are not permitted in the theatre.
Tickets: $35 / $55
Tickets online: NetTiks at http://www.telecharge.com/
Tickets by E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets by phone: Tele-charge (212) 239-6200, or outside the New York metro area (800) 545-2559, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Tickets in person: Box Office hours Monday through Saturday 10 A.M. to 8 P.M., Closed Sundays. (Beginning May 9, Sundays Noon to 6 P.M.)
Tickets by snail mail: Via Dolorosa, PO Box 998, Times Square Station, New York, NY 10108-0998.
Standing room: Available at the Box Office only, when the performance is sold out.