Review: GREY ROCK at The Kennedy Center

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Grey Rock, written and directed by Amir Nizar Zuabi and commissioned and produced by Alexandra Aron from the Remote Theater Project, is a masterful reflection of an ordinary, modern-day man in a dilapidated Palestinian village, who has high ambitions to build a rocket, reach the moon, and more importantly, exercise his birthright to dream, create, advance, and launch free from the shackles of oppression.

Watching the several relationships between Yusuf (Khalifa Natour) and his daughter Lila (Fidaa Zaidan), Lila and her fiancé Jawad (Alaa Shehada), and Yusuf and his apprentice Fadel (Ivan Kervork Azazian) all unfold and then coalesce was nothing short of spectacular. At first, Yusuf is ostracized for thinking like "a free man" or an "American," and is portrayed as somewhat of an emotionally impaired outcast. However, as the narrative develops, the characters and audience realize he is a wise man from whom everyone can learn.

The audience can't help but feel inspired to reflect on the privilege of choice, the power of exploration, and the freedom to take risks. Most impressive about this performance are the intricate details that reveal the depth of the characters and the complexity of their predicament. Among these details are poetic verses injected throughout the play, which fuse science, love, and hardship. Lila, for example, bursts into captivating monologues revealing her desire for safety and stability, and her conflicting hunger to feel passion and explore the unknown. This is a particular feat because the actors performed the story entirely in English, not their native language, to bring their characters to life for an American audience.

Another compelling aspect of the performance is the multimedia nature of the experience, and specifically the unique set design (by Tal Yarden) and light design (by Muaz Jubeh) ensemble. Much of the performance takes place in Yusef's shed and uses scientific metaphors, which are depicted in his invention blue-prints. These blue-prints are projected with light from Yusef's work-table onto the curtains, serving almost as a dual stage. This detail draws the audience deeper into the mind of Yusef and his like-minded apprentice, Fadel. Moreover, the unfortunate nature of the characters' antiquated life is emphasized by the use of technology, such as social media images of Yusuf's project going "viral," which are projected onto the curtains and illuminate the contrast between the modern world and the archaic nature of the Palestinian predicament.

This performance has a loud partisan message and is clearly intended foster empathy among Americans about the unfortunate elements of the Palestinian experience. Grey Rock is a must see for anyone who can identify with the desire to explore freely, to live fully, and to be a part of something important, and who is seeking a Palestinian perspective on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

This production is made in collaboration with The Sundance Institute Theatre Program and is a part of the WORLD STAGES series at the Kennedy Center. It has played a variety of theaters, including La MaMa in Manhattan, and will play at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia beginning on February 6th.


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