Reviewed by Kate Gaul
Elbow Theatre from Canada present “Soldiers of Tomorrow” Playwright and performer Itai Erdal writes of a day when his eight-year-old Israeli nephew came home from school with an empty box to be filled with goods for soldiers on the front lines. Inside the box the boy's teacher had written: 'To the soldiers of today from the soldiers of tomorrow.'
A former Israeli soldier, Erdal shares his experiences in the army, revealing a personal and frank context to the Arab Israeli conflict and the Occupation of Palestine. In his guilt and frustration, one can see reflections of a nation in turmoil. The piece is written by the now Vancouver-based Erdal and Colleen Murphy. It is a blunt reminder of human suffering everywhere. The work may even divide audiences, but “Soldiers of Tomorrow” is an earnest plea for understanding.
Yes, it’s one of those subject areas that has eyes glaze over. Yet this clear sighted and very personal account of politicisation by Itai Erdal and on-stage musician Emad did go somewhat to illuminate not just what is happening in Israel today, but why. Part history lesson and part personal account this work covers the three years Erdal spent serving out his mandatory military service in places like Lebanon and Gaza. Accompanying this hour-long monologue Emad’s elegant music gently guide the audience through the complex emotions invoked by the stories.
Erdal begins and ends the piece in the chair of his Iraqi-born barber (now also living in Vancouver)—musing on all the feelings he has of the man he considers a friend holding a straight razor to his throat. From there, he tells us about a beloved nephew who faces conscription back in Israel and then delves back into the guilt, anger, shame, and trauma that he carries with him from his time as a soldier in the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).
This is a searing account from someone who has faced the brutal truth that he was part of a system that oppressed others and did not treat all humans respectfully. Far from it! The realisation arrives at its climax in a nail-biting account of one traumatic checkpoint stop of a woman with an urgently sick baby.
The story is related with Erdal working on a large desert-like painted canvas which I believe is an abstracted rendition of the contested Middle East zone where Israel sits. He manoeuvres hundreds of tiny toy soldiers, which can represent everything from the collected masses of the IDF to victims of the Holocaust. Three larger versions of those khaki-green toy soldiers stand in for three characters who capture the different points of view of Israelis forced to serve on the frontlines. To close the show, he takes a walk, crushing those figures underfoot, breaking the barrier of toy soldiers between the stage and the audience.
The Vancouver Arts Review distils “The Soliders of Tomorrow” thus: “Our world exists in the realm of glaring contradictions – humans yearning to express love are ordered to perform hatred; children and grandchildren of trauma survivors are taught cultural lores that are incompatible with the current material reality; parents who wish to protect offspring from choosing mandatory military service need to contend with their obligations as citizens of the state machinery.”