New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright seems like a man who could use a proper holiday. Though he travels often, these jaunts don’t involve much rest and relaxation. In 2007, he treated audiences to the distressing vacation slideshow My Trip to Al-Qaeda; now he arrives with another searing set of snaps entitled The Human Scale.
Inspired by a 2009 visit to the Gaza Strip and his subsequent New Yorker article, this new piece, a Public Theater production mounted at 3LD, explores the hostilities that ensued after a group of Palestinians took a young Israeli soldier hostage in 2006. They demanded that 1,400 Palestinians, many convicted of terrorist acts, be released in return for that one prisoner. Wright uses that unbalanced equation to discuss each culture’s attitudes toward the value of human life.
Wright concludes, as almost any informed observer must, that both sides acted intransigently, leading to the invasion in 2009 that left hundreds of civilians dead. This is less a play than a lecture demonstration. To illustrate his claims, he shows images from the conflict, some of which he recorded himself—mangled bodies, bleeding children, streets reduced to rubble. These pictures appear behind him constantly. Sometimes they prove instructive; just as often, they’re a distraction.
Strolling the stage in a rumpled sports coat, Wright has an intelligent, avuncular mien, much like a beloved college professor. He is in no way a natural performer, but director Oskar Eustis has tried to make him more at ease with a live audience than he was during My Trip to Al-Qaeda, though his attempts at banter are vaguely embarrassing. Still, the vision of a humane man grappling with so much inhumanity is quite poignant.
Perhaps Wright can celebrate that success with a short break. I hear Darfur is lovely this time of year.