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The Return, a sober, intense two-hander getting its U.S. premiere as part of Mosaic Theater Company’ Voices of a Changing Middle East Festival, distills the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into a lovers’ quarrel.
It’s the kind of show that signals its metaphoricality early by declining to assign anyone a name: Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan plays an Israeli woman who visits an auto repair shop in Herzilya, Tel Aviv, Israel where only Ahmad Kamal is on duty, because it’s Shabbat and he’s a goy.
We apprehend quickly that these two know one another, or used to, though Kamal’s character is steadfast in his denials. She—sorry, I mean Her—seems fixated on the fact that He—sorry, Him—is permitted to work on Army jeeps unsupervised. That Keegan (wiry and searching) and Kamal (exuding a well-practiced calm) imbue their cryptic and very repetitive exchanges with accruing layers of subtext—and a little bit of humor that is nowhere present on the page—is a tribute to their skill. Though it runs a mere 75 minutes, the pace still feels deliberate.
Director John Vreeke echoes the piece’s minimalistic dialogue with a Spartan presentation, placing the audience on either side of a bare staged furnished with only a bench and a counter, a garage door painted in Royal Blue, and a window covered in bars. The soundscape of a busy auto shop plays over scene changes, suggesting the sounds of battle just closely enough to remind us of the nearness of violence. It’s a pleasant shock, then, when the piece ends quietly.
At Mosaic Theater Company to July 2. 1333 H St. NE. $20-$60. (202) 399-7993. mosaictheater.org.