Chapel Hill-based Deep Dish Theater Company will present the regional premiere of Via Dolorosa, British playwright David Hare’s powerful one-man show based on his 1997 travels to and conversations with the residents of Israel and Gaza, from Feb. 5 to Feb. 28 in the space behind Branching Out at the Dillard’s end of University Mall. Triangle theater veteran David zum Brunnen will play David Hare in this provocative autobiographical drama.

(Note: The “Via Dolorosa” a.k.a. the Way of the Cross, the Stations of the Cross, and the Via Crucis represents key scenes from the Passion of Christ. The 14 stations may be composed of sculptured or carved wood, stone, or metal or they may be engravings or paintings. These images commemorate the series of events from the moment that Jesus was condemned to death until the moment that He was laid in His tomb.)

One of Great Britain’s greatest contemporary playwrights, David Hare was commissioned to write a play about Israel. The occasion was that country’s 50th anniversary. Hare subsequently performed Via Dolorosa, with great success, in London (1998) and New York (1999).

In preshow publicity, Deep Dish artistic director Paul Frellick wrote, “This play is really unique. On the surface it couldn’t be simpler one man recalling events and conversations from a trip abroad. But by the end of 90 minutes, the author has assembled an astonishingly complex picture of the forces at work in the Middle East and the multifaceted nature of the conflict there. Via Dolorosa has all the brilliant, lightning-witted writing of Hare’s other well-known plays (Plenty, The Secret Rapture, Skylight, etc.), but above all, the play is a very human look at the present state of life in Israel and the occupied territories. It’s a heady mix of ideas and passions there should be plenty for theatergoers to talk about on the way home.”

Frellick told Robert’s Reviews: “This play, written to be performed by the author, is rarely performed. I read about the original production in London and New York back in 1998.”

Paul Frellick says that he likes the play’s “mix of journalism and drama. The playwright’s intent, and ours as well, is to serve as a witness to the many emotions and points of view at work in the region, not to comment on them or to prescribe a solution,” Frellick claims.

As this one-man show unfolds, Frellick says, “The author, David Hare (David zum Brunnen), recounts the story of a trip to the Middle East, telling of the people and places he encountered, and exploring the multifaceted nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Besides director Paul Frellick, the show’s production team includes set designer Christa Devitt; lighting designer Steve Dubay; costume designer Judy Chang; props mistress Devra Thomas; and composer Kit Wienert, who has created some original music for the show.

Frellick says, “The event takes place in an empty theater, a transitional space.” Thus, the emphasis will be on the acting and David Hare’s piercing insights into the causes and current nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He adds, “We have scheduled two post-show discussions with Sarah Shields, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at UNC-Chapel Hill; but we hope that the play will engender discussions well beyond the confines of the theater.” These audience-feedback sessions will follow the show’s Feb. 19 and 22 performances.

Also, at 7 p.m. on Feb. 26, the Deep Dish Theater Company Book Club will discuss Amy Wilentz’s first novel, Martyrs’ Crossing. Dr. David Carr will lead the discussion, which will take place in Tyndall Galleries, near the theater, in University Mall.

A Jerusalem correspondent for The New Yorker from 1995 to 1997, Amy Wilentz was nominated for a 1990 National Book Critics Circle Award for her nonfiction book The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier. According to preshow publicity, The New York Times Book Review praised Martyrs’ Crossing as “sophisticated and suspenseful” and “tautly written…. Wilentz knows the world she writes about very well, and her descriptions have a solid specificity that lends authority to her fiction.”

Also according to preshow publicity, “Martyrs’ Crossing vividly depicts the tumultuous, tragic events that unfold when Marina Raad Hajimi, the wife of an imprisoned Hamas terrorist, tries to bring her desperately ill son into Israel for medical care. Mother and child are refused entry at the Israeli checkpoint, and the youngster dies at the scene. Marina’s Palestinian-American father, prominent cardiologist George Raad, returns to Ramallah to be with his bereaved daughter. Lt. Ari Doron, the young Israeli post commander who obeyed orders to prevent Marina and her son from crossing the border is plagued with guilt over the child’s death and seeks absolution from Marina and George before Hassan Hajimi, Marina’s husband, gains his freedom.”

Deep Dish Theater Company presents Via Dolorosa Thursday-Saturday, Feb. 5-7, 12-14, 19-21, and 26-28, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, Feb. 8, 15, and 22, at 3 p.m.; and Wednesday, Feb. 25, at 7:30 p.m. in the space behind Branching Out at the Dillard’s end of University Mall, at the intersection of Estes Drive and U.S. 15-501, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. $14 ($10 students and $12 seniors), except pay-what-you-can matinee Feb. 8. 919/968-1515. Note 1: Deep Dish’s storefront theater is located in the area behind Branching Out, which is located between Cameron’s and The Print Shop. Enter through Branching Out. Note 2: There will be post-play discussions, led by UNC-Chapel Hill professor of Middle Eastern studies Sarah Shields, following the show’s Feb. 19 and 22 performances. Note 3: Dr. David Carr will lead the Deep Dish Book Club discussion of Amy Wilentz’s first novel, Martyrs’ Crossing, at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 in Tyndall Galleries in University Mall. Deep Dish Theater Company: Via Dolorosa (PBS web page): The Catholic Encyclopedia (1912 Edition): [inactive 9/04]. Martyrs’ Crossing (Random House web page, which includes an excerpt from the book):