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On my play ' Land of milk and honey '
By Manuela Dviri

Manuela Dviri  playwright, author, columnist--was born in Italy but has been living in Israel since 1968. For the past three years she has been writing a column in the Italian daily “Corriere della sera,” and for Italian weekly «Vanity Fair». She has been writing also for the Israeli daily “Maariv and other Israeli newspapers.
Recently she won five awards for her writings: Premio “Alta Qualità “ and “Fumagalli” for her newspaper work and “Alvaro” and “Valitutti” for her book “ War through my eyes” while she won the “Viareggio International ” for her second book “ Land of Milk And Honey”, named after the play.
In June 2005 she was also awarded the “ Peace and reconciliation award” for the “Saving Children” project , a project of medical cooperation created in order to save the life of sick Palestinian children.
Dviri is known in Israel an Israeli peace and human rights activist, having been among the main activists of “four mothers” the grass roots organization credited with bringing about Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon. e-mail : manuela_dviri@hotmail.com  

The play

"Land of milk and honey” is the story of a day in the life of Leah Zuharez - an Israeli of Italian Argentinian origin-, the «Alter ego » of myself , a woman who has lost a son in war.

It all happened so quickly…
Exactly three years ago I received a phone call from an Italian theatre director, Silvano Piccardi.
“Could you write a play dealing with the Israeli –Palestinian conflict ?” He asked.
I had my doubts about it… Piccardi , I told myself , is not Jewish or Arab ,has never been here , doesn’t know a thing about what’s going on in the Middle East besides what’s he has read in Italian newspapers … how can he understand ?
Against my best judgment , I decided to give a try.
And I discovered that you don’t have to know , you just have to be able to feel. The play “ Land of Milk and honey” was written during one hot and wonderful summer, in Venice.

The play deals with all the conflicts of my life: the death of my beloved son, my past as an Italian Jew in the Diaspora , (represented by the character of my Zionist father who chose never to leave his native Italy) , the present , Israel and the Intifada, ( represented by the never ending discussions with my right winged husband –in the play as in real life) and the future with neighboring Palestine ( represented by my two Palestinian friends).
The success of the play has left me astonished, happy, and proud.
And of course I know I owe it greatly to Ottavia Piccolo and Silvano Piccardi , the wonderful and generous actress and the director who by now have become much more than an actress and a director to me. They have become soul mates, the two people who gave me the courage to speak up, and the Italian public the possibility to feel, and think , and hope and suffer, with us, here, in the Middle East. Miles and miles away.

"Land of milk and honey” (Terra di latte e miele) , produced by La Contemporanea 83 , was written in collaboration with Silvano Piccardi . It premiered internationally in 2003 in the Studio theater in Champs Elyseè in Paris, France .

The play then toured Italy for two seasons and performed all over Italy , in all major cities for a total of 130 performances, so far, with great success both of critics and public, performing actress Ottavia Piccolo ( Lea – the Mother) and young actor Enzo Curcuru ( the son and grandfather). Silvano Piccardi director. A third tour is going to start after the summer.

Other characters in the play (not appearing on stage) are friends of the mother: her arab- muslim lady friend (Hanan) resident of Jenin, and her arab- christian lady friend , Maria, who lives in Bethlehem; Lea’s husband, Shlomo, a religious Jew who holds right wing views, and who – despite his age - decides out of the blue to re-enlist to military reserve duty; her children, who are on a trip in Galilee at the time a suicide bombing occurs in that area; her arab gardener who comes to visit from his village on foot in order to bypass the check points on his way ; her sister Vera who lives in Argentine (in times of severe recession there ); her dead son’s ghost, the soldier, the dead hero, and her father’s ghost, the sionist , who loved Israel but chose never to leave the diaspora and fulfill his sionistic dream.

Leah is obsessively “doing” things: she prepares the Shabbat table, works at a documentary film about Israel ( “guide to the tourist who will never come”) ; tries to help her Palestinian friends – (on that purpose she talks on the phone with the IDF spokesman, members of the media and anyone who is willing to listen to her) ; she send a package to her nearly broke sister and tells her thoughts about a movie she recently saw (“Closure” by Ram Levi) ; she even gives money to the gardener who is nearly broke since the wall ( “the defensive fence”) divided his house from his land. While all this is going on the radio is breaking in with news on two suicide bombings, tens of people are killed and wounded; and the latest news is that the Israeli army is entering the Palestinian territories. Slowly Lea falls apart… her friend Maria has bad news from Betlehem…

The last blow comes from her friend Hanan. “Learn Arabic….I am fed up with your self righteousness and charity , after all – you are there and I am here” she yells to Lea.

Lea decides to go and see “The other side ” with her own eyes. She wants to see the unknown beyond the checkpoint and the wall – the place were only Israeli soldiers can go …. .

The Performers:
The main actress, Octavia Piccolo, is one of Italy’s leading screen and stage actresses. Among others she played in the movie “The Family” by Ettore Scola, “Il Gattopardo ” by Visconti, and worked with Italy’s greatest stage and film directors, among them Giorgio Sthreler, Mauro Bolognini and Claude Sotè .

The Director:

Silvano Piccardi, has worked with Nobel Prize awarded Dario Fò and directed all kind of plays from “Pirandello ” to “Goldoni”, from classical tragedies to an Opera in Vietnam.

In their research for the play the two have recently visited Israel and the occupied territories. 

From the press :
“…..The play is not political propaganda for this or that side. It is the real-life drama of the ordinary people who suffer from their leaders decisions. A drama about people who do not understand the endless bloodshed that has to be endured by both sides…..” ( Ansa)

….” Ottavia Piccolo in the role of the bereaved mother Manuela Dviri gets more and more desperate but unwilling to give up, even if reality seems to contradict her…impressionistic structure of the play which doesn’t use theatrical effects . …the public gets emotionally involved…” ( Franco Quadri, Repubblica)

…” An hymn to peace... showing the strongest desire for peace .Dviri’s moving text shows a warm humanity … Ottavia Piccolo is a most wonderful and generous actress… the play shows what courage is , weak people can easily kill… but only strong people can work in order to find a compromise…” ( Magda Poli, Corriere della sera)

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  • playwright Manuela Dviri

    Manuela's son Yoni

    Octavia Piccolo as Leah Zuharez in 'Land of Milk and honey'

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