Robbie Gringras enters the bare white stage and describes how he wakes up every morning: To the sound of the muezzin from the local mosque reciting the Adhan, the Muslim call for prayer that begins with Allahu Akbar, “Allah is greatest.” By contrast, Gringas, as a man of a certain age, heads to the bathroom, and as a Jew, he recites the Asher yatzar, thanking God for forming the human body with many openings and hollow spaces. Gringras muses that some begin most high and work their way down, and others begin at the bottom and work their way upward. This is life in the Galilee region of northern Israel. Gringras lives on a kibbutz, a Jewish-Israeli community organized along socialist principles, near a majority-Muslim Arab-Israeli village. The kibbutz was founded on a hill, the village in the valley. As both communities grew, they came to abut one another, and are now separated only by a road. The Gate is the latest offering of the long running Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival, now presented by Voices Festival Productions at Capital Fringe Festival 2022.
Gringras introduces us to antagonists Yiftach and Udi, old men who were children during the Israeli War of Independence (he plays both roles). They’re in dispute over the iron gate built in 2000 during the Second Intifada to guard the kibbutz’s only entrance. Yiftach, whose name in Hebrew means “He will open,” wishes to welcome all with an open gate. Udi, who fears that the neighbors (their fellow citizens) still harbor grudges, wants the gate closed at all times in the name of security. Gringras, having grown up in the United Kingdom before immigrating to Israel in 1996, a time when peace between Israel and Palestine seemed imminent, affects an upper-class accent and upright posture for Yiftach and a working class accent and rounded stance for Udi. Gringras notes both “are men of principle.” They never listen to one another, each instead responding only to a caricature of the other created in their minds.
The community council decides upon “a Middle Eastern compromise”—one that pleases no one and solves nothing: The gate will be open during the day and closed at night. Yiftach and Udi clash over just when day becomes night. Yiftach cites the Talmudic standard of three visible stars in the sky; Udi prefers Air Force regulations.
Gringras is not merely a storyteller and orator, but a skilled mime who uses movement to show an increasingly comedic exchange with provocations and acts of sabotage between the two men of principle.
A third character, whom Gringras based on a friend, is Amal (meaning “hope” in Arabic). From the village, Amal married into the wrong tribe, is unable to operate her falafel shop and instead runs a catering business. Much of her clientele live in the kibbutz. It’s not so difficult to get into the kibbutz during the day, but when she wants to go home at night she must wait for a community member to open the gate— sometimes until dawn. Sometimes she dreams of smashing the gate, not because she resents the obstacle, but because she wishes for one to protect her own family.
At once a fable, a satire, and a docudrama in which names have been changed, The Gate poses no simple solutions but humanizes three people from different worlds who may never understand one another.
The Gate, by Robbie Gringras and presented by Voices Festival Productions, plays as part of Capital Fringe Festival through July 24 at W. Washington (Formerly Forever 21), 3222 M St. NW. capitalfringe.org. $15.