The Fever Chart

Naomi Wallace’s The Fever Chart: Three Visions of the Middle East, is three one-act plays, set in the Gaza Strip, West Jerusalem, and Baghdad. The pieces were separately written and performed over five years and first combined in 2008; the play runs at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge through December 19.

The first piece, “A State of Innocence,” is the most ambitious. Yuval, an Israeli soldier, is a Zionist Beetle Bailey, who fell asleep on duty and was made keeper in the zoo in Rafah, southern Gaza. There he meets Um Hisham, a Rafah woman, who knows his name. He challenges her as a terrorist, and she mocks him. She has something that belongs to his mother, she tells him. They are joined by Shlomo, an Israeli architect who designs for power and thrives on ruins, who is surveying. He and Yuval place Um Hisham on Shlomo’s tool chest and circle gaily around her, enacting the “wall and tower housing model,” the “cradle of the nation” that “made the desert bloom,” crows Shlomo. From the tower, Um Hisham mocks them, seeing “only Palestinians.”

The behavior of the zoo animals, who lose parts at night, but regrow them in the day, gives Shlomo and Yuval pause. “Where are we?” they ask. They recount past Zionist and other heroics to reassure themselves, which Um Hisham criticizes knowingly. She tells Shlomo the location of some fresh ruins, which she knows intimately. He dashes off eagerly to inspect them. Um Hisham knows Yuval’s life in detail, including his tank, his unit’s destruction of the zoo, songs familiar to him, and details of his home. She reminds him of his mother’s belonging which she has. Yuval is perplexed and wary.

Shlomo returns, frustrated at not being allowed to see the ruins. An Israeli soldier was killed there, and inspection is prohibited. Yuval tells Um Hisham that Palestinians are murderers. Um Hisham tells them of the killing of her daughter by an Israeli sniper. Shlomo laments noble past causes, now lacking. Yuval discovers that he didn’t want to be a soldier. It is dusk; the animals will begin their diurnal cycle. Yuval is nervous, and wants them both to leave; Shlomo does, but promises to return tomorrow, as Um Hisham knows he will. She finishes telling Yuval of his life and fate and his mother’s possession.

Um Hisham is the only innocent, and the only one with knowledge. Shlomo and Yuval are guilty as can be, and innocent only of knowledge, for which they pay, forever, in a Dantean circle whose inmates dismember themselves nightly, and remember themselves daily.

Entire article (PDF) is at The Fever Chart

on CounterPunch, December 3-5, 2010 The Fever Chart

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