Teatron Jewish Theatre presents Deceived at the Toronto Centre for the Arts through November 20, 2011.
Deceived was written in 1994 by Israeli playwright Motti Lerner and opened to audiences in Tel Aviv in 1995. It tells the story of Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew who is caught delivering top-secret American government files to Israel and who is subsequently sentenced to life in prison. This political drama also features a hint of a love story, involving Pollard’s now ex-wife Anne, a woman who gets tangled in Pollard’s wrongdoings and is ultimately sentenced to over three years in jail.
It is apparent that Lerner did a commendable job of researching the subject matter, a topic that seems to strike a nerve in many people who followed, and continue to follow, the Pollard case. Much of his research came directly from Anne who gave him insight into the events that took place and who fully supported the creation of the play. He was able to simplify an extremely complex story and bring it down to a level that made it enjoyable for audience members.
My favourite character was Anne’s Uncle Sam, a sweet, older gentleman who embraced his role and made it very believable. My companion Tori and I agreed that the best, and funniest, moment of the play was when Sam dressed up as Einstein and had a humourous, yet significant, conversation with the jailed Pollard about the dangers of nationalism.
I also enjoyed how the play was narrated. Often, the characters would directly address the audience and poke fun at elements of the play that may have been a “figment of the playwright’s imagination.” Scenes were often interspersed with FBI interrogations while Pollard’s espionage was occurring, and the audience was given several “flashforwards” into Anne’s hospital stays while she communicated with her incarcerated husband.
As interesting as the subject matter was, Deceived fell short in many ways for me. Because the story was oversimplified, I felt like I was missing other important aspects of the story. I would have appreciated a little more context as to what was going on in the world when the play took place as many of the period references were over my head.
Many of the actors struggled to remember their lines which made me and my companion feel quite uncomfortable. The play was drawn-out and added subplots that I thought unnecessary. An example of this can be seen in the affair that one of Pollard’s coworkers has with their shared superior at the Naval Fields Operational Intelligence Office. It felt awkward and irrelevant to the larger storyline.
Perhaps my biggest issue with this play was why Pollard was so eager to risk his safety, and the safety of his wife, to transmit top-secret documents to Israel. This was an American Jew who was born in Texas that was willing to sacrifice his job, and life, to help Israeli rebels in the Middle East. In a Q&A session after the play was over, Lerner told the audience that in writing this play, he hoped to explore the relationship between the North American Jewry and Israel and offer some insight into how Jewish identity is tied to this.
I didn’t understand why Pollard felt his identity was so strongly linked to Israel or why he was so quick to renounce the country he’d lived in all his life. His overly nationalistic ties to Israel did not make sense to me, and I could not understand why an American man would feel so strongly connected to this cause. The unconvincing explanations the audience was offered were that Pollard was bullied as a child for being Jewish and that he needed to avenge what happened in the Holocaust and prevent it from occurring in America.
In the Q&A period, I was surprised to learn how passionate the audience was about the story of Jonathan Pollard. I did not feel sympathetic towards Pollard in any way; how could I feel sorry for a man who knowingly committed treasonous acts against his own country? I realized that my view was in the minority. Many questions that the audience members asked were not about the play itself, but the supposed extreme injustice that Pollard had suffered at the hands of the Americans. Several people expressed opinions, and anger, that the Israeli government is not working hard enough to release Pollard from an American prison.
I realized then, that this play merely shed light on the political drama that is associated with the Jonathan Pollard story and that he has countless supporters who continue to rally for his release. While Deceived was a unique story, I did not feel the emotional attachment that other audience members seemed to have and perhaps if I were more passionate about the cause, I would have enjoyed it more.
-Deceived is playing at the Toronto Centre for the Arts (5060 Yonge Street) until November 20th
-Shows run Tuesdays to Thursday, Saturdays and Sunday at 8pm; and Sunday matinees at 2pm
-Ticket prices range from $31-$48
-Tickets are available in person, online (www.teatrontheatre.com), or through the box office at 416-781-5527