Playwright Martin Blank confesses he has an affinity for spy stories. It was this attraction that drew him to a book about great American espionage cases a few years ago -- and to the story of Jonathan Pollard, an American Jew who received a life sentence in 1987 for passing documents to Israel.
"I immediately thought ... this was a play," he said. Six months later, he said he had "this massive attack of realization that I had a real responsibility toward telling this story."
Blank spent about two years researching and writing "The 11th Hour," based on true events. While the world premiere is scheduled for the Center Stage Theatre in Jerusalem in late May, the play is now being read locally at Valley Cities and Westside JCCs on Feb. 8 and 9, respectively. The JCC readings star Edward Asner, Bruce Nozick and Allen Williams, and are produced and directed by Alexandra More, artistic producing director of the Celebrity Staged Play Reading Series.
Asner knows the Pollard story well. He's also performed readings of "Bitter Friends," a Pollard-based play in which pseudonyms were used. In comparing the two, Asner praised Blank's more straightforward version. "I think it's a much braver position that the author has taken in this one," he said.
"The 11th Hour" presents an analysis of Pollard's psychology, focusing on Pollard's point of view from the time he decides to spy for Israel, culminating in his capture and confession. It's an approach that steers away from much of the controversy -- what some call Pollard's harsh sentencing given the circumstances -- and yet it may not avoid it completely.
By humanizing Pollard, Blank's play may draw some criticism from those who feel he should be viewed simply as a traitor.
"Everyone has an almost irrational response to the guy," Blank said, admitting to being sympathetic toward Pollard. "Jay Pollard is a tragic character and the play is a tragedy. It cannot be anything but. Whether you sympathize with him or you don't, he's a tragic character."