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The NBC television series "Law and Order," which has become a true franchise for the Peacock network, with spin-offs popping up all over, popularized the phrase "ripped-from-the-headlines dramas." That's exactly what Voices from the Holy Land: A Festival of Staged Readings of Cutting-Edge Plays, Theatre Or's outstanding series of staged readings of edge-of-your-seat dramas by contemporary Israeli playwrights, delivers.
Last Sunday, I spent nearly eight hours at Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh, North Carolina, watching four of the five plays in this timely festival of topical drama and participating in the post-play discussions. I can truthfully say it changed the way that I look at the Arab-Israeli conflict.
With 13 shows opening this deadline cycle, I do not have time now to write full-length reviews of all four plays. I'll do that Tuesday after I have seen the fifth play. But I can tell you this: If you have any interest at all in this thorny subject (and you should), you need to see as many of these staged readings as your schedule would allow.
Moreover, I do not normally e-mail everyone I know about a particular play or a series, but I did this time. One friend, who admitted that he would never have attended a performance of "The Demonstration" and "Masked Faces" without my fervent recommendation, returned highly impressed by the performance and the post-play discussion. Although the actors perform script in hand, they are some of the Triangle's finest actors; and the facilitators chosen by Theatre Or help the audience talkbacks deepen and broaden the average U.S. citizen's understanding of the current conflict.
"The Demonstration" by Elisheva Greenbaum and "Masked Faces" by Ilan Hatzor — both directed by John Feltch — are two taut one-acts about what it is like to live in a state of fear during the current Intifada. In "The Demonstration," Lenore Field and Nanci Burrows play two desperate Israeli housewives frantically trying to find out whether either or both of their daughters (Sara Ray and Tara Gilboa) was on a bus that has just been blown up by a suicide bomber. In "Masked Faces" — an R-rated drama (for language) — three Arab brothers (Rafael J. Diaz, Polentzi del Rio, and Scott Franco) rendezvous in the back of a butcher shop for more than a family reunion. Two of the brothers fear that the third has become a collaborator with the Israelis, and they intend to find out one way or another, using any means necessary.
In The Fist, written by Misha Shulman and directed by Jerome Davis, two older generations of an Israeli family (Bob Barr, David Ring, and Dede Corvinus) must cope with the death of a close relative (Elliot Galdy) in a suicide bombing while grappling with the inexplicable and shocking decision of their son and grandson (Kevin Poole), a decorated officer in the Israeli Defense Forces, to go to jail rather than serve in the Occupied Territories.
Set in an ultra-Orthodox section of Jerusalem, Women's Minyan focuses on the ordeal of a devout woman named Chana (Jan Morgan) — a model of an ultra-Orthodox woman — who suddenly and inexplicably flees her learned husband and her lovely home and abandons her 12 children, carrying a terrible secret with her. When Chana returns years later with a court order in hand, compelling her family to allow her to see her children, the family refuses to comply — until Chana asks her family and friends to sit as a women's minyan to hear the full story of why she left and decide whether she should ever see her children again. Written by Naomi Ragen and directed by Joseph Megel, this harrowing courtroom drama is not for the faint of heart. Its twists and turns and ultimate revelations will leave its audiences clamoring for a full-scale production.
All these dramas are very powerful and most deserving of an audience. I'll cover them all in detail Tuesday, alone with Hard Love, written by Motti Lerner and directed by Joseph Megel.
Theatre Or presents Voices from the Holy Land: A Festival of Staged Readings of Cutting-Edge Plays: "The Demonstration" and "Masked Faces" (Sunday, Nov. 21, at 7:30 p.m. at the Judea Reform Congregation, 1933 W. Cornwallis Rd., Durham, NC); Women's Minyan (Sunday, Nov. 21, at 4:30 p.m. at the Judea Reform Congregation); The Fist (Thursday, Nov. 18, at 7:30 p.m. at the Freeman Center for Jewish Life, 1415 Faber St., at Duke University in Durham, NC; and Sunday, November 21 at 1:30 p.m. at the Judea Reform Congregation); and Hard Love (Saturday, Nov. 20, at 8 p.m. at the Judea Reform Congregation). $30 three-play festival pass or $12 per play ($5 students and college students with ID). 919/990-1994 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Note: There will be post-performance discussions with scholars, community leaders, artists, and/or conflict resolution facilitators. Theatre Or: http://www.theatreor.org/.