In playwright Motti Lerner’s provocative and relevant play, The Admission, now playing at The Studio Theatre (as originally produced by Theater J), the question of when does the personal become the political and vice-versa becomes paramount. This tension between the personal and the political seems to comprise the crux of this bold and stimulating play. The assorted characters in this play each have their own convictions and the playwright seems to grant validity to all of them; perhaps–the playwright is asking us to admit that all people have a right to their own point –of-view even amidst the terrible pain of reconciliation and attempts to mediate.
Exploring the themes of denial, guilt, and the quest for truth as related to the very relevant political tensions of the Israeli and Palestinian communities and flashing back to an incident that was alleged to have occurred during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Motti explores theme after theme-exploring such themes as the sins of our fathers, the need for secrets and lies, and the need for atonement. As the press release states, “Lerner’s play focuses on Giora, a wounded veteran of a military action in Lebanon, who tries to discover the circumstances surrounding the murder of a group of Palestinian villagers by a unit commanded by his father 40 years earlier during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Aside from being obviously influenced by Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, there are also parallels to the strong social content of Henrik Ibsen.
Drawing from a uniformly excellent cast to deliver the nuances of this fascinating play, Director Sinai Peter does a superb job of integrating the text, actors and the technical aspects of this workshop production into one unified organic entity. Actually, the spare scenic design with sets of chairs and tables against a plain backdrop only aids immeasurably to emphasize the elemental and primal raw emotions of the characters. Peter directs his cast fluidly and the staging is top-notch.
As the lead character, Giora, Danny Gavigan invests his character with moral complexity and a striking physical presence. Joel Reuben Ganz (Amzi) possesses a very natural vitality in his role and is especially compelling in his scenes of anger and defiance. Michael Tolaydo (Avignor) gives a performance of utter raw realism and exposed nerves as the father involved in the past incident; he is like a festering wound about to explode. Hanna Eady (Ibrahim) as Amzi’s father, brings a cerebral quality to his role and shows us a man trying to make sense of his situation. Nora Achrati (Samya) is vivid and impressive in her portrayal. Kimberly Schraf (Yona) shows the proper air of maternal benevolence coupled with steely fortitude as Giora’s Mother. Rounding out the ensemble, Elizabeth Anne Jernigan (Neta) offers a sensitive portrayal of a woman trying to understand a lover who is in emotional pain.
As mentioned, the Scenic Design is spare yet striking and credit must be given to Frida Shoham who also designed the costumes –which are all done in natural earth colors. Klyph Stanford provides superior projection design employing dramatic visuals projected against the back of the stage. The moody, atmospheric music can be credited to Composer Habib Shehadeh Hanna.
Deemed “controversial” by some, I feel that it would be more germane to think of the play as a penetrating and trenchant exploration of people’s strong convictions as they realize that the price of mediation and reconciliation may mean even more pain and suffering. There are very few good plays that were not deemed controversial at one time or another-from Ibsen’s A Doll’s House to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to Mart Crowley’s The Boys in the Band.
I believe that playwright wants to provoke the audience out of their complacency by virtue of sharp, insightful writing to be taken on a humanistic level. As we watch these characters trying to make sense of the anguish they experience by remembering their past and enduring the present, playwright Lerner offers one a chance to think about the emotional scars that hatred sows. Dialogue must take place and an attempt at communication must be made for bonds to be formed between nations and people. Also, like many fine plays, more questions are raised than answers are given.
In the emotionally moving conclusion of this play, Lerner offers us a moment of hope as all the characters stand illuminated on the stage, somberly facing the horizon of an unknown future. As the lights dim, one cannot help but feel that the playwright is—perhaps—telling us that we must try to understand one another or die.
Commendation must be given to The Studio Theatre, Ari Roth (Artistic Director of Theater J) and Andy Shallal (Executive Producer, Busboys and Poets) for the foresight shown in bringing this important play to The Studio Theatre for a continued run.
Running Time: One Hour and 45 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.
The Admission plays through May 18th, 2014 at The Studio Theatre’s Mead Theatre-1501 14th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. Tickets are available online.
John Stoltenberg reviews The Admission at Theater J.