A New Play Explores the Unease of Modern French Jewry https://mosaicmagazine.com/picks/arts-culture/2022/03/a-new-play-explores-the-unease-of-modern-french-jewry/

March 3, 2022 | David Cromer
About the author:

Joshua Harmon’s latest play, Prayer for the French Republic—set primarily in France in 2016 and 2017, with flashbacks to 1944—follows a Jewish family confronting many of the same questions their forebears faced 70 years earlier. Those questions revolve around whether it is safe to remain in their home country. In conversation with Ruthie Fierberg, David Cromer, its director, discusses the work and its relevance to American Jews.

The thing that I identify with most [in the play]—the one thing I’ve learned about life—is it is very easy to look back and say, “it’s so much worse now. The world is so much worse.” No. It’s always been worse. The difference about the past is we know what happened. So for good or ill, it’s concluded. The present, you just don’t know what’s going to happen a second from now. So when we’re in theater, when we’re talking about living in the moment, that is the reality.

What’s great about this play is that some people in the room are saying, “it’s time to get out.” And other people are saying, “What are you talking about? You sound like a crazy person. It’s fine. [The far-right French presidential candidate Marine] Le Pen’s never gonna win.” One of the great and chilling things about the play is Pierre [a ninety-one-year-old Holocaust survivor] saying at the end of the play, “We couldn’t leave—all our money was tied up in the pianos.”

If I say to you, “Leave now, Ruthie,” you’re gonna say, “Now I have to write this piece, walk the dog, all my stuff is here. I’m supposed to go to Vegas next week” or whatever. So you hope it’ll be okay. You hope cooler heads will prevail. And our life is the difference between whether we just keep hoping or whether we go when it’s time to go. Hope for the best or expect the worst.

You can make an argument that a person’s sense of safety is merely an illusion. If you were realistic, you would understand that danger is constant and everywhere. But the thing is—like we were saying earlier—I also hope. We have to live in some kind of hope.

Read more on JTA: https://www.jta.org/2022/02/22/ny/is-it-safe-a-new-play-explores-the-unease-of-modern-french-jews-in-the-face-of-antisemitism