Written by David Hare
Directed by Anders Cato
Berkshire Theatre Festival
A CurtainUp Review
Via Dolorosa 7 Years Later, and Without Its Author On Stage
By Elyse Sommer
It's been more than half a dozen years since Sir David Hare starred in his own solo play, his only acting stint ever but one he was obviously comfortable in. Though he insisted on calling it a play (and most critics agreed with him) it was suspiciously similar to a lecture -- granted a theatrical one and with Hare's charm and text strong enough to bring it off, no matter how you categorized it. Since then Hare has been busy writing other plays, the most recent, the semi-documentary, Stuff Happens.
The problematic relationship between Israelis and Arabs has exploded into a major crisis once again so Berkshire Theatre Festival's revival is, if anything, painfully timely. Jonathan Epstein, who earlier in the season portrayed Salieri in the Main Stage revival of Amadeus stands in for Hare. He does so very persuasively, complete with a quite authentic British accent.
Since Epstein is an actor and not playwright Hare taking on the rare role of performer, this Via Dolorosa is actually less a witty lecture masquerading as a play than it was when I saw it on Broadway. The book version of the play may have dropped in Amazon's rankings but Hare's observations are more pertinent than ever and the examples I used to illustrate his bravura wordsmithing still dazzle. Consequently my review of the original production also remains unchanged.
Under Anders Cato's excellent direction Mr. Epstein's performance is animated but unfussy. Also excellent, and ideally suited to the Unicorn stage is Chris Boone's set -- a study filled with two Calder-like arrangements of mementos from Hare's Israel journey. A back panel, on occasion dramatically illuminated by Michael Jarett, emphasizes the symbolism of Jerusalem's Via Dolorosa, not as a tourist attraction, but as an unbroken trail of suffering and the struggle for survival.