By Sarah Kricheff

Published March 26, 2004, issue of March 26, 2004.
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In 1946, Ben Hecht wrote a controversial play that publicized a cause he hoped to help: the recognition of a Jewish homeland for Holocaust survivors and resistance to British rule in Palestine.

Set on a Jewish transport ship that is stopped by British forces immediately after World War II, Hecht’s “A Flag Is Born” enjoyed an eight-week run on Broadway — starring Marlon Brando and Paul Muni. It aroused tension and anger in audiences and some denounced it for supporting terrorism. Copies were confiscated by government officials in Canada in response to the play’s anti-British sentiment. Yet somehow, after its Broadway run, it was lost to the archives.

But now, thanks to the American Century Theater, a company dedicated to producing neglected theatrical works, “A Flag Is Born” is back. Under the direction of Steven Mazzol, the play features a cast of 14 and offers a pageant-like use of dialogue, dance and traditional music.

The play “is about a group of people trying to find a place to call home,” Mazzola said. “It is a beautiful play about family, change and compromise.”

Reactions to this production might not rise to the levels of fierce emotions inspired in 1946, but the message remains poignantly relevant.

“It is easy to overlook the situation in Israel — we get acclimated the news reports of violence,” Mazzola said. “A Flag Is Born,” he added, “reminds us of the history of why the violence is continuing.”

“My hope is that it will provoke greater efforts toward peace.”

Gunston Arts Center, 2700 S. Lang St., Arlington; March 25-April 24, Wed.-Sat., 8 p.m., March 28, April 3, 4, 18 and 24, 2:30 p.m.; $23-$26, $18-$20 seniors and students; reservations required. (703-553-8782 or www.americancentury.org)

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