'Murder Of Isaac' Makes U.S. Debut

Israeli flags blow over the flower covered grave of late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin during a memorial at Mount Hertzl cemetery in Jerusalem, Friday, Nov. 4, 2005. On the 10-year anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the official who was responsible for the Israeli leader's security is calling for a new investigation into the killing. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)
For Israeli playwright Motti Lerner, there was never a question that he would dramatize the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin: It was simply a matter of how.

"It's not a choice," Lerner says. "It's not something that I do because I like to do it. It's just a feeling of responsibility. I want to be a responsible writer."

Lerner's "The Murder of Isaac" had its American premiere last month at Center Stage in Baltimore. That was more than 10 years after Rabin was gunned down by a right-wing Orthodox Jew following a rally to promote peace with the Palestinians. The play was also produced in 1999, in Germany, but has undergone substantial revisions since then. It has yet to be performed in Israel.

For Lerner, one of Israel's most prominent political playwrights, finding a way to interpret such a painful national trauma was a test of his abilities. He ultimately settled on an elaborate structure; a play-within-a-play about Rabin's murder (Isaac is an anglicized version of Yitzhak) performed by patients being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder at a long-term rehabilitation center.

The result is a jarring, intentionally messy and powerful work — a plea for peace from the casualties of a seemingly endless war. Through his lead character, Binder, Lerner expresses hope for an end to violence fueled by religious fanaticism. It's a message as simple and heartfelt as John Lennon's "Imagine," and one with the potential to resonate even with audiences that know little about Rabin or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"A lot of it is very foreign and exotic, but hopefully there are reverberations that are universal," said Irene Lewis, director of "The Murder of Isaac.".

The play takes place in 1998. It begins with the patients apologizing to the audience for performing a play on a day when several soldiers were killed.

At the behest of Binder (David Margulies), a former soldier who lost a leg in the 1948 battle for Jerusalem, the patients do their best to stage the play despite the limitations posed by their injuries and psychological scars.