Are children doomed to repeat the sins of their parents, or can they escape the cycle of negativity and start fresh? Theater J’s workshop presentation of Motti Lerner’s powerful play The Admission examines this ageless question through the lens of the ongoing Israeli-Palestine conflict. The audience looks through the eyes of injured Israeli veteran Giora as he grapples with the ramifications of his father’s past wartime deeds and threatens to spark a tinderbox of long-buried anger and ethnic strife.
Giora, played with soul-searching magnetism by Danny Gavigan, is a mirror of Lerner’s own conflicted conscience: proud of his heritage and society, yet deeply skeptical of the amount of blood and treasure that has been spent to achieve Israel’s gains. Giora is a university professor in Haifa, Israel who expects to take over his family’s prosperous development business from his father, Avigdor. As a result of battle wounds from years ago, he struggles around the stage on arm braces – a constant reminder of the physical and emotional toll on the region’s inhabitants. Nevertheless, he begins the show with a sunny disposition owing to his solid career prospects and impending nuptials with fiancée Neta, played by the fiery Elizabeth Anne Jernigan.
Giora’s Palestinian friend Azmi provides a counterpoint to the professor’s privileged upbringing. Azmi runs a struggling family restaurant financed with Avigdor’s money, where his aged father Ibrahim cooks and his unseen wife cleans. Actor Pomme Koch fills Azmi with edgy resentment, never letting Giora – or the audience – forget that his family has gotten the short end of the stick.
Azmi’s academic sister Samya, played by Leila Buck, acts as the go-between in the tense relationship. She balances her brother’s cynical pragmatism with a more open-minded viewpoint, which can be linked to both her time studying abroad and her romantic history with Giora. Azmi, of course, doesn’t approve of Samya and Giora’s dalliances, which just complicates the picture even further.
The foundation of this uneasy truce starts to erode when Avigdor enters the restaurant and announces plans to build over the ruins of Ibrahim’s ancestral village. As something buried deep in Ibrahim’s memory clicks into place, the old cook snaps. The shocking act starts a chain reaction that tears down Giora’s tidy reality, propelling him inexorably toward an ugly secret that binds the families together more tightly than any romantic tryst.
The Admission’s most compelling element is the juxtaposition of the two fathers’ struggles as the truth slowly rises from the desert soil. Theater J veteran, Michael Tolaydo, delivers a typically strong outing as the mercurial Avigdor. It’s a privilege to watch him tackle the dilemma of a father torn between his only remaining son and his reputation as Giora races toward the truth. Meanwhile, the quietly powerful Hanna Eady gives an emotional turn as a broken patriarch tearfully weighing the cost of reaching out for long-awaited justice.
Closes April 6, 2014
1529 16th Street NW
2 hours, 15 minutes with 1 intermission
Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays
Details and tickets
There are a few rough edges that ding this strong production. From a staging angle, the scene transitions are often abrupt, with lighting and music changes that swiftly cut off vital dramatic beats before Lerner’s crackling drama has a chance to breathe and sink in. From a character angle, Giora walks a fine line between noble quest and unhealthy obsession, but he only seems to have one speed: full ahead. This works just fine when the other characters rise to meet his frenetic energy, but when they drop off, Gavigan is left to rage and ramble against a series of entirely reasonable arguments. Giora’s (and therefore Lerner’s) noble aspirations are undermined each time he seems more interested in an obsessive crusade for buried secrets than true reconciliation and healing.
Still, perhaps Lerner’s point is that it takes an unreasonable act to break through the intractable status quo. Lerner has explained The Admission as a call for constructive criticism of current Israeli-Palestinian relations from expats observing from abroad. Lerner, an Israeli himself, pulls no punches in his frank appraisal of Israel’s role in prolonging the conflict, which explains some of the controversy Theater J has had to weather in recent months.
The Admission is designed to ruffle some feathers, and director Sinai Peter has crafted a production that should ignite even the most calcified corners of the debate. Through this resonant tale of fathers and sons, of overdue repentance and healing, Lerner and Peter are working to break through and restart real dialogue. Here’s hoping they succeed.
The Admission by Motti Lerner . Directed by Sinai Peter . Featuring Leila Buck, Hanna Eady, Danny Gavigan, Elizabeth Ann Jernigan, Kimberly Schraf, Michael Tolaydo and Pomme Koch . Produced by Theater J in collaboration with the Cameri Theatre and the Arab-Hebrew Theatre of Jaffa . Reviewed by Ben Demers.