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the Complete Review
the complete review - drama

Via Dolorosa

David Hare

general information | review summaries | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Via Dolorosa

Title: Via Dolorosa
Author: David Hare
Genre: Drama
Written: 1998
Length: 72 pages
Availability: Via Dolorosa - US
Via Dolorosa - UK
Via Dolorosa - Canada
DVD: Via Dolorosa - US
Via Dolorosa - UK
Via Dolorosa - Canada
  • Also includes When shall we live ?, delivered in 1996 at Westminster Abbey as the eleventh Eric Symes Abbot Memorial Lecture.
  • Hare kept a diary during the time he performed the play in London and New York, published as Acting Up (see our review).
  • Via Dolorosa was also made into a film in 2000, directed by John Bailey and starring David Hare

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Our Assessment:

B : interestingly written, but lacking depth and resonance

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Economist A- 24/4/1999 .
The Guardian A 9/9/1998 Michael Billington
The LA Times . 6/7/1999 Don Shirley
The New Republic B 7/6/1999 Robert Brustein
New Statesman A 18/9/1998 Kate Kellaway
New York A 4/9/2000 John Leonard
TLS . 18/9/1998 Glen Newey
USA Today A- 24/3/1999 David Patrick Stearns
The Village Voice . 24/3/1999 Michael Feingold
Wall St. Journal A- 24/3/1999 Amy Gamerman
Wall St. Journal A 19/5/1999 Henry Grunwald

  Review Consensus:

  Very positive, an earnest, clever, well-done job, almost no real criticism of his approach. Kid glove treatment. (Hare's actual performance (and the productions) came in for more criticism; this has been parsed out of our summaries as much as possible.)

  From the Reviews:
  • "Though written for the stage, the piece can also profitably be read, much like a long magazine article, as a record of his encounters and reactions." - The Economist

  • "Inside David Hare the playwright there has always been a journalist struggling to get out. But the two merge perfectly in this one-man play, which is both a brilliant piece of reportage about Hare's journey to the Middle East and a cunningly shaped work of art." - Michael Billington, The Guardian

  • "Radio may well be the script's natural home." - Don Shirley, The Los Angeles Times (Note: this review refers to the radio broadcast of the performance)

  • "Hare deals eloquently, compassionately, and feelingly with most of the issues currently roiling this stormy area. (...) Given the enormity of his subject, Hare does a sound if synoptic job with his material." - Robert Brustein, The New Republic

  • "Hare elegantly includes himself, Hampstead and Christianity in the piece so that he is moored within it and its arguments. The result is an exceptionally moving evening: passionate, thought-provoking and individual." - Kate Kellaway, New Statesman

  • "So Hare is made to take the Middle East personally. That's what gives Via Dolorosa such a powerful edge. (...) It is 90 minutes of exacerbation and unraveling, of a mind at the end of its tether." - John Leonard, New York

  • "It's as if Hare can't quite bring himself to believe in his own lack of conviction. Confusion also surrounds Via Dolorosa itself. It's unclear in what sense it is drama, and if so, who's performing it. Up on stage, it's certainly Sir David himself. But is he himself, or just impersonating himself ?" - Glen Newey, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Always, (Hare) offers offbeat humor amid contradictions, poignancy in moments of terror, and squalor plus humanity behind the political convictions." - David Patrick Stearns, USA Today

  • "(W)hatever the flaws in Via Dolorosa, Hare has not written a faked-up, pretentious, pseudo-religious work, but a well-meaning and honest piece of journalism." - Michael Feingold, The Village Voice

  • "Mr. Hare does not so much take sides between Israeli and Arab, orthodox or secular Jew, as he illuminates the maddening complexity of the situation, the seemingly insoluble contradictions of faith, hope and suspicion. No picture can convey better than Mr. Hare the range between legitimate fear and paranoia, the precise calibrations of what it means to be Jewish." - Henry Grunwald, Wall Street Journal

  • "Via Dolorosa is stuffed to bursting with memorable accounts of characters of every political stripe and mood. And yes, they are great material." - Amy Gamerman, Wall Street Journal

Please note and bear in mind that reviews of dramas generally refer to specific performances rather than to the written work itself. (Note also that complete review's reviews refer specifically to the written text.)

Please note that these ratings solely represent
the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       This volume contains both Hare's one-man play, Via Dolorosa, as well as a lecture, When shall we live ?. Both deal with matters of religion, spirituality, and the question of how to live, one centered around the Israeli-Arab conflict, the other around Christianity.
       "Via Dolorosa is a monologue, ideally to be performed by its author," Hare explains at the outset. It was, in fact, Hare who did perform the play in 1998 and 1999, to reasonable success in both London and New York. (His own account of being a performer can be read in the diary he kept during this time, Acting Up (see our review).)
       The play is not only occasioned by his travelling to the Middle East (as he was finally convinced to do), it is an actual record of his journey and experiences. The author is generally the lens, refracting experience and revealing only what s/he wants to reveal. In a case such as this this point is driven home even harder. Many characters are encountered, even quoted, but it is only Hare's voice that is heard.
       Travelogue as drama ? Hare writes well, and the piece reads like a fairly interesting, comfortably pared-down travel bit with some political and religious colouring. How riveting this might be in performance is an open question -- what makes it drama rather than travelogue, art rather than lecture ? Ticket prices alone ?
       The drama is about Hare's travels through the Israeli-Palestinian territory. He encounters British Council characters, settlers, leaders, Jews and Palestinians. Throughout it Hare is a fairly passive observer (rushing out of the room to make notes in those households where work -- in front of the family -- is not permitted on the Sabbath). He listens, records, asks a few questions.
       The Israeli-Palestinian problem is not a very interesting one (or, conversely, a very interesting one) because it is founded completely in irrationality -- based on those irrational pillars of religion and nationalism. (Irrationality need not be pejorative -- indeed, the irrational nature of religion is surely its greatest selling point.) The problem cannot be reasoned because reason has very little to do with it. Hare shows the emotional irrationality of the discussion, on both sides. Interesting, perhaps, but it begs the question: to what end ?
       Hare does come to some vague conclusions:

Are we where we live, or are we what we think ? What matters ? Stones or ideas ?
       The difficulty with the question is that Hare obviously stands in one camp (his phrasing of the choice as between "stones or ideas" should give some clue as to which) and he never really seems open to understanding the other side. Personally, we agree with his point of view -- but that does nothing towards either understanding or figuring out what to do about the issues in the Middle East. There is a hint that Hare understands that there is more complexity to his question: he closes the play with his arrival home, his dog greeting him, then him closing the door to the world outside. Able to retreat to his bourgeois, upper middle class English lifestyle (and for all his Labourite pretensions Hare is, in many respects, very bourgeois), complete with obedient dog waiting for its master, Hare is as much a man of his surroundings (the very comfortable post-Thatcherite England of New Labour) as he is of his ideas. And, arguably (for those who believe art means anything), many of his previous plays can be seen as stones rather than ideas. (The fact that his plays are always said to be so full of ideas doesn't mean they are -- the Western intelligentsia likes to believe in ideas (and ideals), but in fact often makes do with the mere appearance of both.)
       There are some entertaining bits in the play. Hare has a good ear, and he sketches the many characters well. The full cast of characters, however, is a bit much. Presented, literally, through Hare, the play seems to demand to be seen as emphatically his very subjective interpretation of them. So is the play ultimately more revealing about Hare than the Middle East ? Perhaps, but really it isn't very revealing about either.

       When shall we live ? is a well-written lecture, given in Westminster Abbey (and later at Keble College, Oxford). Politely but firmly Hare questions religion, the main point being that he believes that Christians have a "side-bet" with god, believing in a hereafter which allows them to avoid some of the issues of the here and now, while agnostics of Hare's stripe firmly believe that our obligation is to the here and now.
       "We are living after all in an age which has been uniquely disfigured by it appetite for violence," Hare claims. Hare rightly criticizes the present times and government (and church) policy in so many of his plays, but he does not seem to have much sense of history. The evils he sees and chastises are not new evils. We are not familiar with any age that has not been similarly disfigured, and none that manage to paint over it so nicely. (The "sheer numbers" argument seems inappropriate since our age dwarves all others in almost any measure of "sheer numbers".)
       Hare rightly attacks the Church for its stance and position on many an occasion. He wonders whether Christianity "has recovered from the ethical disaster of the Second World War," referring here specifically to the crimes perpetrated against the Jews (and squarely blaming Pope Pius XII for his unwillingness to address the situation). Again, the sense of history is missing -- the history of the Church could, in fact, be seen as one of continuous ethical disasters.
       Hare wonders about human need for spiritual comfort, and he offers a few bones for the Abbey crowd to chew on. Certainly, his conclusion -- our obligation is to today, "what matters is when and how the killing will stop" (although surely he means: what matters is how to stop the killing), and that Christian ideals are not best suited to achieving this -- is spot on. But who does it convince ?
       An interesting, if ultimately empty lecture. Well-written, with some nice bits, but that's about all. Oh yes, and some stuff to get angry at if you're a (religious) believer.

       Hare writes well enough that this book makes for an interesting read. It seems somewhat pointless (for all its high-minded pointedness), but it is entertaining (and short) enough to read.

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Via Dolorosa:
  • Faber publicity page
  • The complete review's review of Acting Up, the diary Hare kept while performing the play in London and NY
  • Extract at The Guardian
  • Via Dolorosa at PBS - recommended
  • Interview at Al-Ahram Weekly
Reviews: Via Dolorosa - the film: David Hare: Other books by David Hare under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • Juan Goytisolo's Landscapes of War offers another account of travels in the troubled region
  • See Index of Drama under review

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About the Author:

       English playwright David Hare was born in 1947. He has written many plays and screenplays and won numerous prizes.

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© 1999-2008 the complete review

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