nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
July 31, 2007
The theatre can be a powerful advocate for those who lack a voice in a polity or culture, just by telling their story, simply and clearly. Palestinians could certainly benefit from such advocacy, especially (for want of a better term) the ordinary populace—the men and woman who are trying to live day-to-day under circumstances that most Americans can neither wholly understand or perhaps even imagine. Glyn O'Malley's Paradise and David Grieg's When the Bulbul Stopped Singing are two fairly recent examples of plays that, at least in part, accomplished this. Masked, by the young Israeli writer Ilan Hatsor and translated by Michael Taub, alas, does not.
This play was written in 1990 when Hatsor was just 18, and his youth tells on him: it's not a particularly well-crafted drama. Masked tells the story of three brothers. The youngest, Khalid, 18, works in a butcher shop (the play takes place in its back room). The middle brother, Na'im, is a member of the Palestinian resistance, a militant who is forced to live with his compadres in the mountains in between raids and reconnaissance missions. The eldest, Daoud, is married with a young son; he works as a dishwasher in an Israeli restaurant and professes to want only to live peacefully and be left alone.
The play begins with Na'im's unexpected arrival in the butcher shop to see Khalid. He tells his brother that the family is in danger: Daoud is suspected by "the Leadership" of being a traitor to the Palestinian cause. Na'im has come to try and save his brother before his fellow revolutionaries, who will surely kill Daoud, arrive later that day.
Daoud arrives soon after, and he and Na'im embark on a cat-and-mouse quest. The trouble is, the outcome is predictable almost as soon as their conversation begins. Hatsor and his director, Ami Dayan, skillfully build suspense the way that any B-movie thriller would, but the characters and their words are never particularly believable (we can always tell when someone is lying, for example). More important, they're not compelling, except in an adventure-story way. Khalid is the only "ordinary" Palestinian in the room. We need to meet more men and women like him in order to understand the world of the Palestinians in Israel. Na'im and Daoud have very little to say to us about that world (except, perhaps, the extremes that it drives some men to).
I'm not sure that Hatsor's goal of writing a play that's neither pro- nor anti-Palestinian is realized here, either. I found his portrayal of these men to be overwhelmingly negative: when Khalid asks, at one point, whether his brothers could find a peaceful resolution to their problems, I was momentarily hopeful; but what follows disappointingly reinforces a stereotype of lawlessness, zealousness, and inhumanity.
The play has been carefully produced, featuring a detailed, authentic-looking set by Wilson Chin and Ola Maslik and evocative costuming (Jennifer Caprio) and lighting (Thom Weaver). The three young actors who comprise the cast—Daoud Heidami (Daoud), Arian Moayed (Na'im), and Sanjit De Silva (Khalid)—all do splendid work, with Moayed particularly riveting, but they're hamstrung by the weaknesses of the script. And while it's great to see these three Middle Eastern/South Asian actors in the leading roles they richly deserve, it's a shame to see them saddled with the image of terrorist or informer.