Our Award: 3 Fringes
By Rachel Havrelock
Produced by Theater J
Reviewed by Janice Cane
Theater J wraps up its Voices From a Changing Middle East festival this week, crossing over with the Capital Fringe festival.
Yuri Lane is the self-proclaimed “human beat box.” That’s quite a statement, and it sets the audience’s expectations quite high. But even the most sky-high expectations will be surpassed by Lane’s incredible skill.
The noises he produces! The high-pitched whine. The Islamic chanting. The deep, throaty growl. The motorbike. The helicopter (my personal favorite). The list goes on and on. His ability to blend several sounds all at once is awe-inspiring.
But while Lane exceeds expectations, writer/director Rachel Havrelock’s insights fall a bit short in From Tel-Aviv to Ramallah, which first premiered at Theater J in 2003. This summer, it is part of the theater’s Voices From a Changing Middle East festival, ending this week.
On the Theater J stage, a triangular block of wood covered with Hebrew writing is all that separates Tel Aviv from Ramallah, at least physically. That, and Sharif Ezzat’s video projections on the screen behind Lane. At times they just blend in to the background, at other times they help provide context, and even humor.
On the Tel Aviv side, Lane is a young aspiring DJ named Amir who happily focuses on clubbing and girls until his beloved city is bombed and the army calls him to duty. In Ramallah, Lane is Khaled, a youth increasingly focused on fighting for freedom from “the occupation.” He even plays a video game called “Intifada 2,” in which he chooses to become a suicide bomber targeting a Tel Aviv disco. When the Israeli army confiscates Khaled’s computers, he decides to act.
On the one hand, From Tel-Aviv to Ramallah attempts to illuminate the differences between the two cultures. Until the bombings, Amir blissfully drowns any worries in music, dance, recreational drugs and girls. Meanwhile Khaled becomes increasingly obsessed with the struggle to regain land.
On the other hand, the show seems to highlight the similarities between the two sides-yes, the tunes are different on each side of the stage, but they are of the same genre-just like “Salaam” and “Shalom.” Unfortunately, in the Middle East, the notion of peace can mean fundamentally different things to different groups of people.
As with any portrayal of the Arab/Israeli conflict, the generalizations presented here may be problematic for some audience members. Generalizations are, of course, impossible to avoid in an hour-long show about an age-old story. And so the hip-hop version vibrates-literally-but it does not necessarily reverberate.
Yuri Lane will perform From Tel-Aviv to Ramallah: A Beat Box Journey on Tuesday, July 24, 9 p.m., at Theater J’s Goldman Theater, in the Washington, D.C., Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. N.W. He also will perform Thursday, July 26, 10 p.m., at Busboys and Poets, 2021 14th St. N.W. Call (866) 811-4111 for tickets.