BWW Review: Tense, Engrossing THE RETURN from Mosaic Theater
The Mosaic Theaatre Company closes its second season with a perfectly realized and humane play about real life in the Middle East precisely 50 years after the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
"The Return" by Hana Eady and Edward Mast works well because it is rooted in one basic human interaction, between an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man who works as a mechanic. The woman, back to the area after several years abroad, is surprised that a Palestinian would be allowed to work on the Israeli tanks there, and says so a number of times. The man, resigned to a competent skill, has become a trusted worker and doesn't want to over-emphasize any apparent contradiction in being allowed to work there.
But there is more to this interaction; she has searched and specifically tracked him down. Was he the man she had an encounter with more than a dozen years earlier? An encounter that led to the man going to jail - something by now she is very sorry for? But if it is, what happened to him? What changed? What happened to the prominent tattoo he once had?
Eventually the picture becomes more clear of what transpired between them and what conspires to keep their connection apart again. If the play works because it's placed at a human level, its impact comes from the impassioned performances of its cast. Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan, with her halting, perfected accent, goes to the edge of her compassion (and curiosity) to even make the contact. Ahmad Kamal does a superior job maintaining his trusted worker facade until her incessant questioning breaks him down. Director John Vreeke keeps their interaction full of tension and passion.
Like the acting and the words, the set by Colin K. Bills is a fine representation of the situation at large, with the audience split on both sides of the performance space on risers - which side are you on? - and the repair shop entrance with its overhead fencing, bars on windows emblematic of the brutal intractable barriers that been erected all around the region. His lights and Sarah O'Halloran's sound emphasize the sirens that can go off at any time.
Can it ever change? It seems discouraging, even as the smallest well intentioned action can result in a life changing betrayal.
Though it was presented previously in Hebrew to an audience in Haifa, Mosaic founding artistic director Ari Roth says "The Return" represents the first time the work has been presented without mediation from Israel. That there's a company who was founded to address and present different sides of these issues in an annual Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival (that got Roth famously fired from the Jewish Community Center's Theater J) shows that there's a glimmer of hope.
Just about every performance of "The Return" comes with post-show discussions titled "Bridging the Divide," "Working With and Alongside the 'Other,'" and "Questioning Good Intentions." While they will all likely be worthy talks, none are likely be as eloquent or powerful as the play that precedes it.
Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission.
Photo credit: Ahmad Kamal and Alyssa Wilmots Keegan in "The Return." Photo by Stan Barouh.
"The Return" by the Mosaic Theater Company continues through July 1 at Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE. Tickets at 202-339-7993 or online.