New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Jewish

"Dov and Ali"
Cherry Lane Theatre, Manhattan

“Dov and Ali” is a sensitive work by Jewish-American playwright Anna Ziegler which hits at the very heart of issues which confront us today.  As Jews in a modern multi-cultural, multi-racial, multi-religious society, we are beset on all sides by conflicting values. Moreover, we battle with our own inconsistencies. Can we respect our own traditions while making room for opposing viewpoints? Can a Jew be tolerant of invasive ideas while holding fast to long-held practices? Is there room for compromise? And it is not only ideas, but the people which espouse them, which are at stake.

As this spells out in Ziegler’s play, Dov is an Orthodox Jew, who teaches in an inner-city high school (in Detroit). He is challenged by his precocious student Ali, who is a strict (in fact, fanatical) Muslim. As the play opens, the bright, articulate Ali does not hesitate to attack Dov with his father’s anti-Semitic tirades. The Jews should be pushed out of Israel, which they stole, according to Ali’s father. But Dov forces Ali to do his own thinking, not parrot his father. At the same time Ali challenges Dov’s relationship with his shiksa girl friend. In this constant battering, each will have his impact on the other, gradually forcing the other to think differently.

Added to the mix is Dov’s girl friend Sonya and Ali’s sister Sameh, both of whom contribute further complications. Sonya opts for marriage, but Dov cannot go that far, will not introduce her to his parents.  (He’s rather like those Jews who claim to be kosher, but have no problems mixing meat and dairy dishes at a restaurant.) Sameh, who is breaking with the rigid Muslim rules, has her own battles with her brother Ali.

Ziegler is, in fact, dealing with people, as well as ideas, and her characters—all four—come vividly to life. Others in the story—Dov’s parents, Sameh’s boy friend, Ali’s father—are never on stage, but are present all the same. The four on-stage characters are beautifully rendered by Urkarsh Ambudkar, Heidi Armbruster, Anitha Gandhi, and Adam Green—and one is drawn into each one’s world, feeling each one’s pain.

While Ziegler has written a play that is often pure poetry, it is not ornamental poetry. The action never slows, the issues never dim. Rigid religious views, whether Jewish or Moslem, can be limiting. “Dov and Ali” makes its emotional impact, leaving one to mull the themes long after leaving the theater.

-- Irene Backalenick
June 22, 2009

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