City Paper is not for tourists
If you haven’t yet seen the controversial play that made its English-language debut at Theater J in March and raised the ire of local pro-Israel activists, here’s your last chance. After a sold-out “workshop” run at Theater J and a 22-show extension produced by Busboys and Poets at the Studio Theatre, The Admission is staging its final shows this weekend.
The Admission is a tale of two Israeli families—-one Jewish, one Arab—-grappling with the repercussions of a battle that took place 40 years earlier in an Arab village called Tantur. Linked by business (the Jewish patriarch, Avigdor, financed the Arab Azmi’s restaurant) and love (between the Jewish Giora and the Arab Samya), the families have long sustained a tenuous peace that begins to wear thin during the 1988 intifada. When Avigdor announces plans to build a new housing complex on the remains of Tantur, Samya and Azmi’s father, Ibrahim, protests, which leads to an unearthing of truths that neither family is ready to bear.
The details of the killings at Tantur, a fictional battle that almost exactly mirrors the subject of a real-life controversy, Tantura, are disputed: The Jews claim that it was a fair fight with minimal casualties, while the Arabs remember it as a 200-person massacre that ended in the rape and murder of women and girls. Giora (an earnest, boyish Danny Gavigan) starts pulling at threads, which unravel back to Avigdor (a sputtering, indignant Michael Tolaydo), who gave the troops their orders that day.
With their histories called into question and their legacies hanging in the balance, the families weigh the importance of restorative justice against the calm that comes from keeping quiet, as Giora and Samya (Leila Buck) hold their tightly bound secrets up to the light and begin to see the outlines of what’s inside. Each character is painstakingly fleshed out in Motti Lerner’s nuanced script; they’re uncertain, they’re battling themselves at times, and their motivations don’t always fall neatly inside party lines. We all know that there are two (or more) sides to every story, but in The Admission, we’re reminded that there’s more than one epilogue, too, sometimes written generations down the line.
As a workshop production, the show is set on a nearly bare stage, with no fancy costumes or effects—-but had I not followed the kerfuffle with Theater J, I wouldn’t have known the difference. The dialogue, for all its sharp edges, is so natural, the emotions so rich, the actors so deeply settled into their roles, that an elaborate staging would have been a superfluous expense.
Still, once the inter- and intra-family conflict erupts, the cast’s energy hits a high and doesn’t budge, leaving little room for build or release. Watching scene after scene of men arguing and women standing in the background looking concerned grows a bit tiresome, but the thoroughly complicated characters don’t let the story slow to a bore.
Hanna Eady, as Ibrahim, is a standout—-the Palestine-born actor gives his character the outer frailty and inner strength of a man who has lost most of his family and friends, whose history is being slowly erased while he watches, powerless, in anguish. At a post-show Q&A last Friday, he shared an emotional memory of visiting the U.S. Holocaust Museum for the first time. In tears, he recalled that he’d wondered how, after the atrocities of the Holocaust, Israelis could build such solid fences and walls, patrolling borders and enforcing checkpoints. Some folks in the audience nodded their heads. Others raised their hands to disagree. But everyone listened. And that, I have to believe, was Lerner’s intent. Both Ari Roth and Andy Shallal should be applauded for so ably carrying out his vision.
Photo by C. Stanley Photography. Photo and illustration courtesy of Theater J.