Photo: Marc Brenner
Is this the most ill opportune time to mount a “fantasia on the Third Crusade and the history of violent struggle in the Holy Lands”? That’s how the pompous, Kushner-esque subtitle of David Eldridge’s underbaked new play “Holy Warriors” would have it.
London’s Globe Theatre might believe this is quite the coup, for what better time to stage a play about war in the Middle East than in a time of war in the Middle East? But the debate surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict — so polarized and contentious at the best of times — becomes even more entrenched, bitter and blind during periods of armed struggle. The instinct to pick a side overtakes the mind and ears close to nuance, including the nuance of art.
But perhaps in the case of “Holy Warriors” (running in repertory until August 24), the notion that its subtlety might be lost shouldn’t be of much concern. The play’s first act is a well staged and often engaging canter through 12th-century Levantine history, beginning in Damascus with Saladin’s decision to march upon Jerusalem, through the Battle of Hattin, the capitulation of the Christian rulers of Jerusalem in 1197, and the Third Crusade and Richard the Lionheart’s failure to recapture Jerusalem from its Muslim rulers.