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The Klinghoffer Effect

November 28, 2014
Thanks to all for the continuing interest in the play, Three Testaments: Shalom, Peace, Salam. Moving the premiere from the West End Theatre in NYC to an upstate venue was caused partly by security concerns re what extremists could regard as putting Muhammad on stage, even though we are assured that we are well within the bounds of propriety for both Islamic theology and Muslim cultures. Now these security arrangements in Niagara Falls have raised an interesting theatrical dynamic.

The decision to run security checks on handbags and backpacks as people enter (with cameras rolling for the video production) means that the “drama” begins then and includes the audience as we proceed to deal with socio-religious tensions on stage. Modeled on the Sufi poem “Conversation of the Birds,” the three “birds” representing Muhammad, Fatama and Salman then explain things in a prologue as the uniformed police presence flanks them on stage. The Quranic bird known as Hoopooee (after the sound it makes) says:

“The atmosphere here is electric this evening. Some came to see how we stage the representation of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him), his daughter and companion (Peace Be Upon Them). The movie The Message was well received by most Muslims and others, for example, but productions like the Innocence of Muslims caused riots in the streets. I cannot “depict” Muhammad, not looking or sounding anything like him, but I can stand in for him in this play in order to express his views as I heard them from my perch on a tree nearby. We want no riots this evening, but if any of you intend to disrupt this play we want you to know that there is security present, and we ask everyone else to please remain in your seats and to respect the peace that we are here to promote.”

The inclusion of an audience and non-casted security personnel in a drama which is heightened in this way will be called the “Klinghoffer effect,” after the success it brought (by accident at first) to the recent opera, The Death Of Klinghoffer, otherwise judged “mediocre at best” by the critics. Based on the tragic 1985 murder of a paraplegic Jewish tourist on a cruise ship, protestors charged that it was “anti-Semitic” and that it either “glorified terrorism” or “stereotyped Palestinians.”

Klinghoffer just finished its run at the Metropolitan Opera in NYC on November 15 of this year, but the presence of police put the production on the front page of the entertainment section of the New York Times. Our director, Arthur Strimling, has recognized the potential of the Klinghoffer effect when there is a coincidence between the dramatic context and the performance content. To be sure of the dynamics, we will proceed sensitively with employment of the Klinghoffer effect in preparation for our return to NYC next year. Even though we expect the Niagara Falls premiere to be staged without incident, we do expect the Klinghoffer effect to engage the audience and probably gain the attention of the media.

Posted by: Brian Arthur Brown