New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Jewish

"Desert Sunrise"
Theater for the New City, Manhattan

Recipe for “Desert Sunrise”: Combine in equal proportions noble ideals, earnest intentions, fantasy, realism, multi-cultural performers, and one of the hottest trouble spots in today’s world. Volatile ingredients, to be sure. But there are other elements required for a good theater piece—namely, organization, clarity, and a story that moves forward.

Thus the problems of “Desert Sunrise.” This new piece written and directed by Israeli-born Misha Shulman works to bring the Palestinian-Israeli problems to the forefront. But it is so ambitious in its use of poetry, symbolism, dance forms, and oriental shadow puppetry that it comes off as an overheated muddle. Nor does the opening dialogue in Hebrew and Arabic help sort things out. And when the characters finally turn to English, it is difficult to accept a simple Palestinian shepherd’s command of that language.

The shepherd is at the core of the story. Shulman, to do him credit, draws on history as it is played out in south Hebron. He focuses on the plight of those shepherds who have lived for centuries in its desert caves—an area called Jbal el Khalil—that is, until the Israeli intrusion which has all but destroyed their world. Shulman brings together just such a shepherd with an Israeli soldier who is lost and wandering in the desert—and later the shepherd’s woman. Initially hostile, the two men gradually bond, as they share a joint of hashish, but the woman’s intrusion brings violence and disaster to the scene.

While there are gifted performances from the three—Aubrey Levy as the soldier, Haythem Noor as the shepherd, and the exquisite Alice Borman as the woman—it is all too frenetic, too chaotic, too pointless. But in that respect, Shulman’s play may indeed be an accurate reflecton of the Israeli scene.

-- Irene Backalenick
Oct. 9, 2005

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