Ethnic Theater - Jewish
Workshop Theater, Manhattan (part of the Ninth Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival)
The infamous Yom Kippur War in 1973 was one of Israel’s most critical times, a time when the nation’s very existence was at stake. During that terrible time American playwright Meri Wallace lived in Israel (from 1968 to 1975), and out of her experience comes a very personal play--“Yom Kippur.” With that war as its background, “Yom Kippur” deals with the lives, deaths, anguishes and joys of four young people.
So far, so good. Wallace has chosen an era which offers rich material for exploration. How were families affected by that sudden, disastrous war? How does one balance loyalties? How did its impact change relationships, bring forth long-hidden secrets, develop bravery or cowardice? All questions to which Jews—and indeed any student of human nature—would like to know the answer.
Unfortunately, the best of intentions do not necessarily result in top-notch theater. Wallace too often skims the surface, never pursuing issues nor developing characters in depth. Too often a topic is mentioned and dropped, leaving the viewer at sea. And her two-dimensional characters, paired with a complicated plot, make for a kind of soap opera. Furthermore, the dialogue tends to be flat, limited, uninspired.
Her story deals with two American couples, all four of whom have made Aliyah (resettlement in Israel). Yitz and Yael are married, in love, and expecting a child. Friends Ephraim and Sarah are married, but Ephraim prefersYael. Yitz bravely enlists, rushes off to the battlefront, while Ephraim stays back, battling it out with wife Sarah and longed-for Yael. Numerous other personal issues and characters complicate the tale—Yitz’s mother who had abandoned her son, a new lover for Yael, a marriage for two other friends, birth of Yael’s child.
Problems of the play, whatever its flaws, are not improved by the production. Granted that “Yom Kippur” is part of the play festival, where new works are necessarily mounted with a minimum of cost. It is a time of beginnings, of experimentation. Nevertheless, director Halina Ujda might have managed a smoother staging. With its many short scenes, Ujda has difficulty effecting smooth transitions, which turn out to be awkward, lengthy and noisy.
Yet the cast of nine acquits itself favorably. Particularly affecting in their roles are Aylam Orian as Avi, and Gayle Robbins as Sarah. But, all told, this is a play which has yet to find its best voice. Wallace would do well to take “Yom Kippur” back to the drawing board, enriching its characters and enhancing its language.
-- Irene Backalenick
July 17, 2008