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Controversy Surrounds ‘Seven Jewish Children’

The New York Theatre Workshop will stage three readings of the British playwright Caryl Churchill’s 10-minute play, “Seven Jewish Children” — a quickly written response to the recent Israeli incursion into Gaza.

When the play debuted in February at London’s famous Royal Court Theatre, it had some critics swooning; it has others up in arms. John Nathan of London’s Jewish Chronicle, for one, wrote: “[F]or the first time in my career as a critic, I am moved to say about a work at a major production house that this is an anti-Semitic play.”

In seven abrupt scenes, Jewish elders construct disparate versions of past events including the Holocaust, the founding of the state of Israel, the first Palestinian uprising and recent event in Gaza. Most lines of the play begin with “Tell her” or “Do not tell her” — a device that, while perhaps effective, may also grate at the ear in mere minutes.

“Seven Jewish Children” isn’t the only recent British production to cause a stir over its portrayal of Jewish characters. A recent revival of “Oliver!” — based on the Charles Dickens’s novel “Oliver Twist” — had some critics arguing that the street thief character, Fagin, is an anti-Semitic caricature, much like Shakespeare’s Shylock.

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