Ravaged by War, Healed by Art, an Israeli Brings Knock on Wood to the United States | Playbill

News Ravaged by War, Healed by Art, an Israeli Brings Knock on Wood to the United States
While playing a soldier named Jonathan in a production of Final Treatment at Israel’s Haifa Theater in 1973, Samuel Schmulik Calderon’s art converged with his life in a devastating way when he was drafted to fight in the bloody Yom Kippur War. Thirty years later – after twenty years of total silence followed by over 1,000 performances in his native country – the playwright-performer brings his poignant solo play Knock on Wood to New York City’s 13th Street Repertory Theater for its American premiere from May 17 to June 11, 2005.
Samuel Calderon
Samuel Calderon Photo by Yonatan Hamenahem

At a time when the ghastly consequences of war are being explored nightly Off-Broadway by solo artists such as Geraldine Hughes (Belfast Blues) and Heather Raffo (Nine Parts of Desire), Calderon’s piece joins the semi-movement of war-based theatre that has risen to critical and popular success in the last few years. With a new Palestinian president and a fresh breath of hope for peace in the Middle East, Knock On Wood may at first seem to be a retrospective reactionary piece to current events, yet it has been playing to consistently packed houses in Israel for a decade.

The Yom Kippur War began on October 6, 1973 when Egypt and Syria invaded Israel, in an attempt to win back territory lost in Six-Day War of 1967, with a surprise attack on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. In only 17 days of fighting it is estimated that nearly 22,000 Israelis, Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis and Jordanians were killed. In the middle of it all was Calderon, a 23-year old actor, who managed amidst the fighting to develop a quick and close friendship with a soldier named Jonathan – the same name of the character he had been playing onstage before being forced to join in the killing. Jonathan was severely wounded and the two lost touch. The war ended as abruptly as it had started and Calderon shut the memories away for twenty years, not saying a single word about what he’d seen, while not forgetting his fallen friend.

As he pieced his world back together, Calderon resumed his life as an actor at the Haifa Theater. Over the years he maintained a successful career in entertainment as a producer and director in television, film and the theatre. It was while pursuing a graduate degree in Art Therapy at Israel’s Lesley College in the early nineties that he was moved by his studies to re-connect with the painful emotions of his past. He was able to miraculously re-connect with Jonathan, his wounded fellow solider from the war, and mount a cathartic revival of Final Treatment, the A.B. Joshua play he had been performing in when the war broke out. The culmination of all these experiences led Calderon to create Knock On Wood.

In revealing the author’s story to the audience and probing his innermost emotions, the solo show “offers profound insights into the power of friendship and the path of healing”, according to a press release. The play may touch on some themes similar to its Off-Broadway counterparts, but on its own the work plunges into the heart of a conflict that many Americans might not fully understand and tells a story that is not only relevant to current events, but also extremely personal.

Calderon, among numerous other projects, wrote and directed the feature film “Delayed Reaction”. For 8 years he served as a teacher and manager at an acting studio and has appeared in numerous productions across Israel. Knock On Wood is directed by Ruth Dytches, a theatre artist who has been on the faculty at the Tel-Aviv University and the Jerusalem National Film and Television School. Performances of Knock On Wood will run Tuesday – Saturday at 7pm and are to be performed at the 13th Street Repertory Theater, located at 50 West 13th Street between 5th and 6th Avenues. Tickets are $20 ($25 at the door) and can be purchased by calling 212-352-3101.

Samuel Calderon in <i>Knock On Wood</i>
Samuel Calderon in Knock On Wood

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