nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
May 28, 2010
In my program, "Sabra" is defined as:
(noun, Hebrew) 1. A thorny cactus with a sweet interior, 2. A native-born Israeli
Julia Rosenfeld's touching play shows us the daily lives of six 20-something people in Israel, mostly devoid of the complicated politics of the region. That is not to say they are unaffected by regional conflicts; like all Israelis, the two who are of age must serve in the army and disappear from the apartment-set of the play for days at a time. This play shows us what young people really go through, both the natives and their friend visiting from America, the normal things and the internal conflicts. At one point, one of the characters asks if one can really be an Israeli and a Jew and an American at the same time.
Gilah is an American woman with a Hebrew name but little Jewish cultural upbringing. She had visited Israel two years before, and has now put her college studies on hold to come teach in Israel for a year and live with her female friend Adi and her younger, party-animal brother Ben. Adi is in the army and so is her boyfriend Guy. They are in different units and sometimes don't see each other for a while. At first, Gilah is left to adjust to life in Israel on her own, without Adi but with the slightly unwelcome attention of Ben's buddy Shachar. Gilah makes it clear she does not want a boyfriend. As we learn when Adi comes back home, the two women had been romantically involved two years ago. They renew their romance, knowing that Adi still loves Guy. At the same time, Ben starts dating an Orthodox girl named Keren. Ben's maturity level has gone way up, but religious customs don't permit him so much as a kiss and he is afraid to introduce his girlfriend to his circle of friends. Other soldiers are killed in action every day but Guy returns safely. Heartbroken at losing Adi, Gilah experiments with Shachar but realizes she only likes girls. In the end, Adi goes off to the army again still in love with both Gilah and Guy and uncertain of her future.
The action of the play centers on Gilah, although she is not the Sabra of the play's title. This leads me to believe the play is a commentary on the identity crisis of young people in Israel. Elian Zach is wonderful as Adi, passionate about her friends and love interests and purposely blase about the violence in the newspapers. Sarah Kauffmann has the right look as Gilah, sometimes lost, sometimes excited about learning a few Hebrew phrases, rejoicing when she gets to be "herself," sadly the loser in the love triangle. Adam Shiri as Guy strikes me as the typical Israeli, practical, cheerful, English-speaking but of few words, a devoted boyfriend. Noam Harary nails it as Ben, his big unkempt hair and his lazy attitude while living with his sister contrasting with his chivalry towards his girlfriend. Ben really knows how to drink arak. Chris Beier as Shachar plays a complicated character, patient enough to wait for Gilah's affection, also living off various friends' couches and trying not to annoy anyone while borrowing their stuff. Rony Stav as Keren is a really nice person, interested in everyone while at the same time keeping her religious modesty in dress and physical contact.
Samantha Tella and Christopher M. Czyz's direction gives us a muti-layered, believable, contradictory world with great love scenes. Matt Klan and Anastacia Spada's set immediately tells the audience these characters are the same as young people anywhere; I particularly liked the Hebrew Star Wars poster ("Milchamat HaKochavim"). Keith Plokhoy's lighting really sets the mood, especially for the all night party and love affair bits. Calaine Schafer's costumes move the characters effortlessly from army time to party time.
Sabra is a play that will show you what it's like to be human and leave you pleasantly pondering what that means. Upcoming events from Squatters Theatre and Isramerica may shed more light on the subject. Producer Sivan Hadari also appeared in last summer's FringeNYC show Sex In The Holy Land.