Review: ‘The Return’ at Mosaic Theater Company of DC, Part of the 2017 Voice From a Changing Middle East Festival

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Mosaic Theatre Company of DC concluded their 2017 season with a riveting, deeply provocative examination of a State’s National Security apparatus on dissident individuals living and loving beneath it.

Ahmad Kamal and Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan. Photo by Stan Barouh.

The Return by Hanna Eady and Edward Mast has Her (Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan) return to Israel after an eight-year absence in America. Her mission: to repair the damage done to Him (Ahmad Kamal) as a result of Her charging Him with false representation within a love affair.

You see, Her is Jewish and Him is Palestinian, and Him pretended to be Jewish in order to advance a romantic relationship with Her. Him went to jail. Now, eight years later, and after much soul-searching, Her returns to find Him and seek redemption.

The problem is that Him is now a changed man. After his release from incarceration on lifetime parole, Him is under constant surveillance by the State. All expressions of his Palestinian identity are forbidden. Him does his best to play a non-person.

Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan. Photo by Stan Barouh.

The resulting tension between Her and Him is palpable, as Her presses Him to become the man she fell in love with years ago, while Him pleads with Her to leave him in peace and safety.

And indeed, the quest for love is a powerful force. Love leads to all sorts of discoveries about human nature, about human pain, and ultimately about human courage.

The Return offers all three to its audiences, as it delves deep into what people do in the name of love, and security, and freedom.

Mr. Kamal portrays Him with a fierce combination of subservience and passion, as the character modulates between who he knows he is and who he knows he must be to live free from harm.

Ms. Keegan, as the protagonist Her, delivers a brilliant performance as the recently enlightened liberal who, from her position of privilege, will do whatever it takes to affirm her love and fix the wrong she has committed. Unfortunately, her naïveté also has no limits, as the play’s train wreck roars to resolution.

John Vreeke does a masterful job keeping the layers within this complex relationship clear and meaningful.

His alley-staging is also right on point, as it allows the audience to engage the script’s action forum-style. Though personal and fraught with intense emotion, the production highlights the intellectual elements: we watch the play while watching ourselves.

With set and lights by Colin K. Bills and costumes by Jeannette Christensen, sound by Sarah O’Halloran, and properties by Michelle Elwyn, each element of the scenography adds to the rising pathos.

Ahmad Kamal and Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan. Photo by Stan Barouh.

Not since Athol Fugard’s Statements after an Arrest under the Immorality Act has a play so closely examined the dehumanizing effects of totalitarianism on love and identity.

Whereas Fugard’s play deals with two knowing lovers, white and black, choosing to love within apartheid’s racist regime, The Return puts two unknowing subjects, Israeli and Palestinian, Jewish and Muslim, caught within forces beyond their control.

The most any of us can do in such a world is make a stand, make a stand somewhere, somehow, and at whatever cost.

According to Artistic Director Ari Roth, The Return also marks the first time that the Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival has presented a production through an unmediated Palestinian lens. With Palestinian voices rarely heard in the U.S. public sphere in recent memory, everyone should commend Mosaic for this courageous choice.

I highly recommend that everyone see The Return.

Running Time: 75 minutes, with no intermission.

The Return plays through July 2, 2017, at Mosaic Theater Company of DC performing at the Atlas Performing Arts Center – 1333 H Street NE, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 399-7993 ext. 2, or purchase them online.

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