note: entire contents copyright 2010 by Sheila Barth
Make no mistake about it. Instead of promoting world peace and harmony, Naomi Wallace’s pro-Palestinian triptych, “The Fever Chart: Three Visions of the Middle East,” raises eyebrows, temperatures, and uneasiness.
The play is purported to be the theater’s holiday season event, committed to sharing visions of peace and to consider the value of generosity in this time of brotherly love and sharing. Instead of presenting an objective or balanced program, Wallace’s three impassioned plays are slanted towards the Palestinians‘ hideous plight of being subjected to Israeli bullying, unfair treatment, and subjugation, much like the Americans‘ vanquish and near-eradication of Native Americans, in their quest for power and expansion, under the guise of freedom and equality for all.
With subtle undertone, she also lambastes the American relationship to the Middle East and its favoritism to Israelis.
Wallace portrays Palestinians as noble, kindly, loving and caring people who are suffering with lack of water, medicines, homes, or protection from Israeli military raids. Israelis, on the contrary, are selfish, militaristic, foul-mouthed, usurping, and foolish. In the first two dreams of her triptych, she creates an interdependence among the two factions.
Director Elena Araoz has gathered an amazingly talented cast, in which she has an Israeli and Jew playing Palestinians, and the daughter of the late Edward Said, an internationally famous pro-Palestinian activist-educator-author, portraying a callous Israeli nurse’s aide. Their acting is so powerful, the audience is stricken with silent admiration - and puzzlement.
In “Vision One: A State of Innocence,” set in 2002 in Rafah, Palestine, a young Israeli soldier-zoo caretaker named Yuval (Dan Shaked) sweeps away, interrupted by Um Hisham Qishta, a Palestinian woman (Maria Silverman) who appears suddenly, then sings and prays. She knows his name, and claims she has something for his mother. Their quixotic conversation is interrupted by Sholomo, a sprightly, 95-year-old, obnoxious, salesman-type, box-carrying developer (Ken Baltin) who says he intends to build a development at the nearly-defunct, rundown zoo. He is a proud former card-carrying Red Stalingrad revolutionist who immigrated to America and Israel. The irritating buffoon claims he is the architect of the area. The story ends in a supernatural, bizarre twist.
Baltin next portrays Mourid, a troubled Palestinian father who seeks to embrace a young Israeli nurse in “Vision Two:Between this Breath and You”. Najla Said is commanding as Israeli Tanya Langer, while Harry Hobbs as Moroccan-Israeli Sami Elbaz adds comic relief while mopping up after hours in the present-day West Jerusalem medical clinic.
And handsome Ibrahim Miari as Ali, an Iraqi, is riveting in his “lecture” as an ardent bird collector at an international pigeon convention in 2000. As he serenely discusses the fate of his friends and pigeon collection in “Vision Three: The Retreating World,” during the American blockade in Iraq, he speaks directly to and approaches individuals in the audience who are seated in a square perimeter, surrounding him. Ali’s lecture swiftly devolves from his beloved birds to his deteriorated living conditions and his country’s squalor, after his conscription in Saddam Hussein’s army.
Susan Zeeman Rogers’ minimalist set, Justin Townsend’s strategic lighting and Nathan Leigh’s jarring sound effects between scenes add dramatic impact during the characters’ simple yet incendiary, impassioned yet propagandizing dialogue. As one puzzled woman said while walking out, “I still don’t know what to make of it.”
Perhaps we do - all too well.
BOX INFO: Three dream plays inspired by authentic events, with intermission; written by Naomi Wallace,appearing through December 19 at Underground Railway Theater, Central Square Theater, 450 Mass. Ave., Cambridge. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m.; no performances Nov. 24, 25 or Dec. 9. Matinees, Sunday, 2 p.m.; also Friday, Nov. 26 and Saturday, Nov. 27. Check for several accompanying talkbacks and related events. Tickets are $40; seniors, $30; students with valid IDs, $25; youths 12-18, $15. Call 866-811-4111 or visit www.centralsquaretheater.org or the Box Office.