With the health care debate in the forefront, the situation in the Middle East seems to have taken a back seat in the American news, but that's probably because the war isn't being fought in our backyard. What Barefoot Theatre Company successfully does with Mid-East Pieces is bring that terror onto home turf. This is one of most moving plays depicting the current conditions in the Middle East, and playwright Israel Horovitz is to be commended for handling it in such a blunt and unbiased manner.
From the play's first moment, director Eric Nightengale clearly defines the evening as something the audience is meant to experience rather than passively watch. Jimmy Lopez masterfully plays percussion accompanying Daniella Rabbani's moving vocals as she sings in a beautiful foreign tongue. This musical duo ties together the four one-act pieces, helping to create seamless scene changes and occasionally accent the acts themselves; Lopez's drums provide the exploding missiles for the fourth piece, Beirut Rocks. Using drums to simulate explosions rather than depending on pre-recorded effects creates a visceral sensation that is appropriately unnerving. Unlike seeing a film on similar subjects, this audience isn't safely disconnected from the outcome on the stage.
Nightengale continues in this gloves-off vein in the way he handles his actors. Moments of extreme emotional outburst are forced to simmer with increasing tension until they naturally burst forth. One of the most memorable eruptions is by Danelle Eliav, who exposes such a raw nerve through the final words of Nasa, a Palestinian girl raised in America, that even the threatening violence of her intent is made understandable by her position. In this politically correct age, it is no coward's work to handle a play that so openly discusses vile hatred between races, but Nightengale shows no fear for Horovitz's subject matter and allows each bleeding wound to tell the story of its origin and openly admit the vengeance festering inside.
Horovitz examines multiple sides of the conflict, giving Jews, Arabs, and Americans equal time to air their grievances and argue their viewpoints. What all sides have in common are anger, fear, and a growing confusion that promises to kill us all if someone doesn't take the first step towards stopping this suicidal insanity. Horovitz masterfully demonstrates how each side can be justified in its individual stance and, at the same time, be flawed by the limitations of their own perspective. None of his characters preach, yet at the same time, no one is wading in the gray area. There are clear-cut sides, which are emotionally charged, and it is left to the audience to try to figure out a middle ground where we can all hope to meet.
There is not one weak moment in this production. The entire cast performs with power and immediacy, every word hits it mark, and every moment holds its own unique intensity. If this is the stuff that Barefoot Theatre Company is made of, then we can look forward to their next production with great anticipation. - C. Jefferson Thom
For more information and upcoming productions, please visit Barefoot Theatre Company.
Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.