BWW Review: AMSTERDAM, Orange Tree Theatre
In our turbulent modern times, the issue of intolerance for foreigners, immigrants and being 'the other' is a much-debated and controversial topic. In this way, Amsterdam, Maya Arad Yasur's thought-provoking, yet disjointed new play, could not be more prescient.
It is 2019. A nameless, heavily pregnant woman opens a gas bill to find it dates back to 1944; a time when religious intolerance led to the murder of millions. As she goes through the day-to-day business of her life, she becomes acutely aware that she an Israeli Jewish woman living in Amsterdam; she is reminded that she is 'the other' again.
The huge, dark shadow of the Holocaust falls across the play at every point, but there is a wider reminder of the contemporary debate about foreigners in Europe today. As two stories of two Jewish women living in Amsterdam at different points in history develops, it provokes an uncomfortable conversation about the parallels between the dangers of populism in the past and present.
The woman living in 2019 does not actually come across direct anti-semitism, but imagines and speculates on what is going on inside the heads of those she comes across. Is she paranoid or is she just too familiar with how she is viewed and judged by others? Does the man in the supermarket queue judge the contents of her basket? Does her doctor see her as pregnant woman, or a pregnant Jew?
The audience never actually meets the woman. Instead, four actors describe her actions and thoughts that create scenes in her life and those of others. The style of writing is of improvised storytelling; details are suggested, debated and changed as the actors throw lines and suggestions to each other, as though devising a story in real time.
As a method of storytelling, it begins as dynamic, engaging and very effective. As an independent scene, it would have been brilliant, but as an hour and 20-minute play, it becomes occasionally tricky to follow and rather exhausting to watch.
This is Director Matthew Xia's first production as Artistic Director of Actors Touring Company after his recent direction of the excellent Blood Knot at the Orange Tree Theatre. His direction here feels natural and organic, which suits the space very well. Every corner is used judiciously.
However, the decision to use a bell to signify the foreign phrases in the narrative has the cast frequently rushing to a corner microphone to explain the meaning. What begins as an interesting theatrical trope, becomes a little annoying in its frequency.
The cast is excellent; all actors begin a little over-eagerly, but quickly settle into a staccato rhythm. The four actors have a great chemistry and jump adeptly between characters and stories with a great energy and enthusiasm.
Daniel Abelson is particularly engaging, with a wide array of facial expressions and moods. He is world-weary, hardened to facts of history. Fiston Barek is more innocent, with a vulnerable side. Michal Horowicz has a mischievous side and Hara Yannas is careful and likable in her manner.
Naomi Kuyck-Cohen's design is clean and stark, with a lone chair on stage and a desk in the corner. The floor is a sunny yellow, which is bright and cheery at first, but reminds the audience more and more of the Star of David required to be worn by Jews in the Second World War as the play goes on.
This is an innovative and very well-acted production. It is also a very original way of exploring the horrors of the Holocaust, but it's a pity that the poignancy of the story itself sometimes gets lost in the style of the narrative.
Photo Credit: Helen Murray