Love and Israel
nytheatre.com review by Melanie N. Lee
July 15, 2007
Love and Israel: Collected Stories of an Enduring Romance is a sweet travelogue exploring impressions of love for Israel from American Jews, Israeli Americans, and American Israelis. A company of four women and three men presents 12 monologues about the troubled yet passionate relationship between person and country.
The play begins as a voiceover treats the audience like passengers on El Al about to land in Tel Aviv. A slender young woman with bobbed blonde hair (Sissy Block, also co-producer) appears on the bare stage, accompanied by "(I've Had) The Time of My Life" in the background, and tells in rapid-fire delivery how she and Israel fell in love: "I was 16; Israel was 38." Another woman (Iuliana Gedo), intimidated into picky eating by the American obsession with thinness, tells how she lets loose in Israel, gorging on hummus and other ethnic goodies. "(Israeli) bagels are not as good as the bagels I don't eat in New York," she says, adding, "I'm hungry for a place where there's something more important than how I look." A third woman (Mindy Raf) writes a letter telling Birthright how one of its agents, whom she discreetly calls "Really Common Jewish Name", seduced her with "a milk and honey body wash" and other amorous delights just to sign her up for a Birthright pilgrimage. (This monologue is preceded by a disclaimer.)
Women's voices seem to dominate, yet the men get their say, too. A Chicagoan (Paul Weissman), marveling that he is "Joe" in America and "Yossi" in Israel, tells of his dual-citizenship life with his father, which includes Ben Gurion and Meir at his bar mitzvah, and the unexpected killing of an old friend. A New Yorker (Nathan Brisby), a "reserve soldier" in the Israeli army, proud to be "part of a team of Jewish super heroes," agonizes over watching the Gulf War on CNN from the safety of his bed while his unit fights half a world away. The play comes closest to dialogue when, amazingly, the blond, burly Brisby portrays Palestinian diplomat Saeb Erekat as his car is stopped by an Israeli checkpoint guard (Weissman).
My favorite performer of the group, Jordana Oberman, plump with curly brown hair, portrays in one monologue an Israeli reporter who witnessed the bombing in Kenya ("How traumatized our nation must be!"). In her second monologue, after jumping up from a circle of listeners and dancing while a folk guitarist (Avi Reinharz) sings "San Francisco on the Water" in Hebrew, she conveys her joy in music ("I hear a Hebrew song and Israel is where I want to be"), even as she tells how the words of a peace song, "Shir Lashalom," were found in the pocket of the slain Prime Minister Rabin—"shot by a Jew at a peace rally!" Oberman is attractive, animated, and compelling.
Directed by co-producer Ilana Lipski, performed in a black space with folding chairs and black boxes, Love and Israel proves entertaining and informative, as the monologues, written by various writers, cover patriotism, relationships, culture, and war. I didn't find this work as gut-wrenching as I thought it should be, even as the characters talk about the violent deaths of friends. Maybe the characters, or the director, are too caught up in their romance with Israel to convey the depths of the dark side of this love. Still, I recommend Love and Israel as a worthy time at the theatre.