How do you distinguish between “liking” a piece of art and “respecting” it? Is it even possible to like something if it completely devastates you? If thinking on it too deeply causes physical pain? Under those conditions, then I say that yes, I liked I Shall Not Hate quite a lot. While not perhaps the greatest blurb in the world for the bold souls at Mosaic, it is a compliment.
Adapted from the biography of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, I Shall Not Hate details the rise in prominence of Dr. Abuelaish from a youth in the Palestinian refugee camps of Gaza to trusted and famed obstetrician invited to work in Israeli hospitals. Ostensibly dedicated to peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians, Abuelaish is challenged by prejudices on both sides. Eventually his pacifists learnings face their greatest challenge after a deeply personal tragedy during the 2009 Gaza war.
Israeli Palestinian actor Gassan Abbas performs the entirely of Hate’s quietly devastating monologue in a combination of Hebrew and Arabic. Following the dialogue was never an issue, as I Shall Not Hate features the best integration of subtitles I’ve yet seen in a play. Mimi D’Autremont’s austere projections fill the back wall of Atlas’s Srenger Theater with simple and clear text, while mounted monitors allow Abbas freedom of movement through the space and at times into the audience for light participatory moments. Abbas is commanding in the performance, and even as someone who speaks no Arabic or Hebrew, I had no trouble interpreting the emotions and story intended.
I SHALL NOT HATE
January 23 – February 14, 2016
Mosaic Theater of DC
at Atlas Performing Arts Center
1333 H Street NE
Washington, DC 20002
1 hour, 15 minutes, no intermission
Wednesdays thru Sundays
I loved the style of director Shay Pitovsky. Props are minimal, enigmatic and elegant. A suitcase. Some gunpowder-evoking powder. A model house. All will take on several meanings over the course of the play’s 80 minutes. There are points early the piece The only issues I had with Hate were borne of it’s autobiographical nature, despite his intelligence and clearly impressive skills, Abuelaish sometimes falls into the trap of making himself out to be entirely a victim of circumstances. Choices such as leaving his family for years at a time are described as inevitable by products of larger forces, a protest that sometimes rang a bit hollow.
The complaints fade away in the show’s final third, heading into the 2009 Gaza conflict and beyond, during which the play ramps up in intensity and violence dramatically, and to powerful effect. I Shall Not Hate is one of those rare and essential pieces where the audience leaves largely in silence. I can’t say I liked the experience, but I needed it. Mosaic’s is offering and impressively bold first season, and I look forward to following their work in the years to come.
I Shall Not Hate By Izzeldin Abuelaish and Shay Pitovsky, Director: Shay Pitovsky. In Hebrew and Arabic with English surtitles. Set and costume designer: Niv Manor; Lighting Designer:, Ziv Volushin; Sound: Hilit Rosenthal; Translation consultant: Tami Rubin. Produced by Mosaic Theater of DC . Reviewed by Ryan Taylor.