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BWW Reviews: Truth, Lies, THE ADMISSION


Busboys and Poets' founder Andy Shallal has extended Theatre J's The Admission, and the controversial, unflinching drama is now playing at the Studio Theatre's Mead Theatre through May 18.

If you have not had the opportunity to experience this workshop production, you should not miss the opportunity to witness this rarest of theatre pieces. The Admission, by Israeli playwright Motti Lerner, does what few plays succeed in doing. The play confronts with searing honesty a reality few want to know or much less think about, giving voice to all sides of a situation that continues to rattle the world: the birth of Israel and the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. And it does so without resorting to hyperbolic rhetoric, contemptuous righteousness, or what so often happens, melodrama.

The play's subject matter itself might not be a revelation to you, as it wasn't to me. Many years ago I read Simha Flapan's insightful book, The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities, in which the Israeli (and Zionist) historian discusses the 1948 formation of Israel and the campaign to expel Palestinians from their land and homes. Nevertheless, the beauty of the play is that, despite its obvious political repercussions, the drama deals with a much more fundamental human struggle: the struggle to resist the truth when that truth debunks a dearly held belief.

Why? Because the truth is rarely pretty. The truth is usually painful. And for the most part, people want pretty. In today's world, we even want our wars to be pretty: full of Smart Bombs, drones with nose cams, a clearly evil villain, and not a good dead person in sight.

So when in the play two families, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, have to confront the painful truths about their experiences of war, the deep wounds that they have ignored for so long bubble up, leaving everyone on edge and without a place to turn.

At the center of the story is Giora, played convincingly by Danny Gavigan. Giora is what our popular press would call a Wounded Warrior, an Israeli commander severely wounded during the 1982 invasion of Lebanon who through sheer will now maneuvers around on crutches.

Giora's father, Avigdor, played by the always enthralling Michael Tolaydo, was himself a commander during the war of 1948. His involvement in the "cleansing" of Tantura, an important Palestinian village, has been a family (and national) secret for many years.

Avigdor owns a construction company: he wants to build an Israeli settlement in Tantura. That act of expansion triggers old memories, memories buried beneath layers of an enduring occupation.

Ibrahim is a Palestinian restaurateur, played touchingly by Hanna Eady. He survived the horrors of Tantura, but when he discovers that Avigdor will build on the site where he lost his family in '48, his years of repressed agony erupt. He attacks Avigdor, and the action of the play begins to unfold.

Giora must discover the truth behind Ibrahim's violence, and by implication the violence that has engulfed him and his family and Ibrahim's family for decades.

A carefully woven subplot involves Giora and his two love interests, Samya and Neta. The Palestinian Samya, played simply and directly by Nora Achrati, is Ibrahim's daughter, and her love affair with Giora simmers underneath the main action of the play. The Israeli Neta, played forcefully by Elizabeth Anne Jernigan, fell in love with Giora during his rehabilitation and wants to marry him and raise a family. Whereas Samya encourages Giora to search for the truth, Neta encourages him to move on with his life.

Rounding out the cast are Kimberly Schaf and Joel Reuben Ganz. Schaf plays Giora's mother, Yona, and her performance is stellar. Having already lost one son to war, the thought of losing another to the lies that war inspires is tearing her to pieces.

Ganz plays Ibrahim's son, Azmi. His impassioned speech near the play's conclusion is one of the highlights of an evening of highlights: as he explains his double-consciousness in intimate detail: both the knower of the truth and the "sap" who seemingly hates himself and his people, we come to understand the pain of the powerless, of those who must endure whatever humiliation because they have no alternative.

The production team for The Admission is led by director Sinai Peter who uses the workshop concept to perfection. The direct address and the stripped down visuals bring the story to the fore, and the story is after all is what is meant to prick the conscience of the king.

The subtle scenic and costume design is by Frida Shoham whereas the effective lighting and projection design is by Klyph Stanford. The production team is completed by composer is Habib Shehadeh Hanna; translation by Johanna Gruenhut, Ari roth, and Motti Lerner.

Importantly, The Admission is not simply about the Israeli / Palestinian situation. The dynamics of denial that its characters so touchingly explore are revealing of all people who wrestle with truths too painful to accept. And the list is long. We might want that horror to be about someone else's misery. We might want that terror to be caused by someone else's actions. Sometimes--in fact, most times--our own actions, our own history, has played an significant role in our current problems.

It is those truths The Admission implores its viewers to see.

Plays at Studio Theatre's Mead through May 18. For tickets click here.

Photo Credit: Michael Tolaydo and Kimberly Schraf. C. Stanley Photography.

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