Pakistan Didn’t Scare Off Jewish Dramatist

This interview was first published in The Times of Israel.

Jonathan Garfinkel, right, visits the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan, with director Christopher Morris. (Courtesy of Vicki Strouch)

Jonathan Garfinkel, right, visits the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore, Pakistan, with director Christopher Morris. (Courtesy of Vicki Strouch)

Playwright Jonathan Garfinkel has probably gone where no Canadian Jewish writer has gone before — Pakistan and Afghanistan — to create his new play, “Dust.”

Premiering Friday at the Enbridge playRites Festival in Calgary, the drama centers on three women — Canadian, Pakistani and Afghan — and how their lives are affected by the War on Terror. It’s based on hundreds of pages of interviews conducted by Garfinkel and Christopher Morris, the play’s director, in each of those countries.

For Garfinkel, research for the production included living for a month on a Canadian military base in Petawawa, Ontario, where he learned about family members left behind by soldiers.

In late 2010, Garfinkel and Morris spent six weeks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, interviewing locals about how the war had impacted them personally, focusing on those who had lost relatives in fighting or acts of terrorism. Even with contacts in the region, they traveled essentially as tourists, with no fixers and no protection.

They returned to Lahore, Pakistan, last fall to work on the script with well-known Pakistani actress Samiya Mumtaz, who appears in the Calgary production, and to present the work-in-progress to Pakistani actors and artists.

Running for a total of eight performances in Calgary, the show probably won’t be staged in Pakistan because of safety concerns, Garfinkel says.

A Toronto native currently based in Montreal, the playwright is no stranger to provocative subjects. The 39-year-old is best known for his controversial 2008 memoir, “Ambivalence: Adventures in Israel and Palestine,” and a related play called “House of Many Tongues,” which was shortlisted for Canada’s prestigious Governor General’s Award in 2011. He’s also the author of “The Trials of John Demjanjuk: A Holocaust Cabaret,” staged in North America and Germany.

Currently finishing a novel, Garfinkel recently spoke to The Times of Israel about whom he met and what he learned in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and about the dangers and unexpected pleasures of being Jewish there.

Click here to read the interview.

© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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