Flip the Script Friday: Nola Chilton, Naim

I’ve decided to set a goal for myself to reserve Friday to write about theatre. No real reason, other than that it sounds cool, I guess, and it’s something toward which to work. I was on the lazy side today (come on, it’s New Year’s Day) but I managed to skim over a play. It’s one of the ones I scanned in on Sunday at the library, and a relatively short one, so let’s see how this goes for Naim by Nola Chilton.

I couldn't find a suitable image, so I made this one all by myself with Canva! Copyright me! Maybe I should create my own art tiles for all the plays I review?

I couldn’t find a suitable image, so I made this one all by myself with Canva! Copyright me! Maybe I should create my own art tiles for all the plays I review?

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Basics

Naim was written by Nola Chilton in 1978, adapted from The Lovera novel by A. B. Yehoshua.

Characters

  • Adam, the husband (Jewish)
  • Asya, the wife (Jewish)
  • Dafna/”Dafy”, the daughter (Jewish)
  • Naim, young Arab boy (Arab)
  • Verducha, old woman (Jewish)

Setting/Plot

It’s not too clear, but probably in the 1970s, in Israel. Much like A. B. Yehoshua’s other work, there are tons of plot twists, but to sum it up in a sentence or two: Adam and Asya find Naim, and hire him as an errand boy, mostly because he looks like Igal, their son who was deaf and died. Elements of culture clash occur between Naim/Adam, Naim/Verducha (in a subplot, Naim is assigned to help find Gabriel, who was once Asya’s lover but is now missing) and Naim/Dafy (in another subplot, Dafy loses her virginity to Naim). In the end, Adam takes Naim back to the village from whence he came.

My Thoughts

On first glance, it was confusing. On second glance (and after having read some notes), it has many layers to it, with the Arab/Jewish conflict almost eclipsed by surrogacy (Naim becoming a substitute son for Adam/Asya), “incest” (Naim, as the “son” of the family, having relations with his “sister” Dafy, even though the two are nowhere near related), loss (Adam/Asya mourning the loss of Igal and Gabriel), open relationships (with the references to Asya’s lover, and Adam’s quest to find him), and education (Verducha and Naim bond over Naim’s education in Jewish history and culture, and how odd it seems for Naim to have been taught this instead of about his own true heritage). I wasn’t the biggest fan of this play, but the writing style of the author is what’s really fascinating.

Writing From Another Point of View

According to articles I read online by Linda Ben-Zvi and Dan Urian, Nola Chilton (who is still alive and kicking at age 91; I imagine her as a fun old lady with colored hair and funky glasses) is known for her experimental writing and staging, and for speaking her mind through her plays. She switches between first- and third-person, but ultimately, the story focuses on the feelings of the characters in the moment without delving too deeply into backstory, politics, or useless dialogue. She could have very easily made it more specific in these ways, but chose not to. I like this approach to writing; I kind of use it myself. When I write characters, especially those who are not like me (which I love doing), I try my best to imagine that I’m not me when I’m writing, but I’m the character, writing in his/her own voice. If I read the lines out loud and they sound like something that I, Jacob, would say in real life, then it’s no good. You can’t expect actors, readers, or audience members to get into your characters if you keep them inextricably linked to yourself; in most cases, other actors will be playing the characters you write, and if it sounds like you, the audience will be disinterested. In this play, Chilton definitely commits to her characters, switching focus adeptly and fluidly. The strongest characters to me were actually the two least like Chilton, the male characters of Adam and Naim. Which brings me to…

Israeli Play, Arab Character

Dan Urian has written extensively about this topic, as have others, but suffice it to say that there has been some controversy over lack of Arab representation on the Israeli stage. Not saying that every story needs an Arab character in it, but that they are underrepresented, especially in mid/late-twentieth-century plays. On pages 78-79 of his article, Urian points out Chilton’s characterization of Naim, and the character’s Israeli education – a choice probably not seen by most. I admittedly don’t know more about this issue (and I probably should take this as a cue to learn more), but the lack of politics other than interpersonal relationships is refreshing.

Flip It?

Hmm, not sure on this one. Nola Chilton seems to be a badass one-woman trailblazer on her own, from what I’ve read about her, and she provides the technical elements in notes, so I would probably want to see it like she wrote it first.

Works Cited

Ben-Zvi, Linda. “Staging the Other Israel: The Documentary Theatre of Nola Chilton”. TDR 50.3 (2006): 42–55. JSTOR. Web.

Chilton, Nola. Naim. Trans. John Auerbach. In Modern Israeli Drama, 242-265.

Urian, Dan. “‘Hawajah Bialik’: The Double Culture Of The Israeli Arab In Hebrew Drama And The Israeli Theatre.” Contemporary Theatre Review 3.2 (1995): 75-86. International Bibliography of Theatre & Dance with Full Text. Web.

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