Theater Pizzazz

Eric J.

August 10, 2014

Martin Blank’s The Law of Return is a testament to the actual intrigue and complicated nature of world military and espionage. The brisk one act tells the true story of Jonathan Jay Pollard, an American civilian analyst who passed intelligence to Israel in the 1980s. Pollard’s story is thrilling and Blank does a respectable job of adapting it for the stage, though he makes a distracting structural choice that weakens the emotional resonance. That said, it’s a strong work and the production, running at 4th Street Theatre, is mostly effective. Anti-hero Jay, torn between allegiances to his country and heritage, remarks a few times on how his life resembles a Graham Greene spy novel. Blank’s lean script plays out just like those Greene thrillers as he concisely lays out the plot and breaks occasionally from the action to have Jay reflect on his dangerous activities. This would be even more powerful if Jay’s wife, Anne, were not an offstage character. Scenes in which Jay speaks to his confidante are undercut by Anne’s absence and are a missed opportunity to add to the complexity of Jay’s betrayal. Not including Anne as a character also makes the play completely male-centric and this seems unnecessary. We only get her perspective secondhand and there does not appear to be any narrative justification.


August 8, 2014

Jonathan Jay Pollard is currently serving a life sentence in a U.S. federal prison for the crime of delivering sensitive national secrets to the Israelis. Martin Blank takes an astute if somewhat fantastical look at Pollard’s story in his play The Law of Return, which is now making its New York premiere at the 4th Street Theatre. It’s as satisfying as any spy movie and twice as smart. The play opens on Jonathan Jay Pollard (Ben Mehl), an intelligence analyst for the U.S. Navy. As he slicks back his hair and flairs out his collar to the sound of arena rock music, you know how cool he thinks he is. Listening to him speak for more than a minute, however, lets you know that he’s little more than a dork playing James Bond. When Navy Commander Steve Harris (André Ware) gets approval for an anti-terrorist alert center, Pollard jumps at the opportunity to become his lead analyst. “I’m the best intelligence analyst you’ve got,” he tells the commander with dramatic gusto. He gets the job and immediately sets up a meeting with his hero, Israeli master spy Rafi Eitan (Joel Rooks). Since Israel and the US are allies, it’s no big deal if he passes along a few classified documents, right? After all, Israeli lives can be saved by American information.


August 11, 2014

The whole Jonathan Pollard Israeli spy scandal of the 1980s might have been avoided if only the United States Navy had subscribed to a simple bit of wisdom that Tina Fey attributes to Lorne Michaels: “Don’t hire anyone you wouldn’t want to run into in the hallway at 3 in the morning.” That’s one takeaway from Martin Blank’s political thriller, The Law of Return, inspired by the real-life Pollard case and presented by Newsom Zipoy Productions at the Fourth Street Theater. The Pollard we meet here is a shifty-seeming young man who has to be ordered to make eye contact. Run into him in the hallway in the wee hours? No, thank you. Give him access to classified documents? Clearly a bad idea. But Pollard (Ben Mehl), an American civilian, is a brilliant intelligence analyst. When he tells Steve Harris (André Ware), the officer who hires him, that he’s motivated by a desire for “a safe home,” how is Harris to know that “home” to Pollard means Israel? Soon Pollard is meeting with Rafi Eitan (Joel Rooks), an Israeli intelligence officer, and spying for Israel. Sentenced to life in prison in 1987, the real Mr. Pollard has become a political cause, with Israel pressing for his release. But Mr. Blank’s play is evenhanded in its way: Both the United States, personified by Harris, and Israel, represented by Eitan, come off as basically decent. Pollard supporters and detractors can find fuel for their arguments in Mr. Blank’s narrative, even if some of the exposition is clumsy.