by Lynn on January 5, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Factory Theatre. Part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival. Written by Natasha Greenblatt. Directed by Jennifer Brewin. Set and Lighting by Glenn Davidson. Costumes by Lindsay Code. Musical Director, Samuel Sholdice. Starring: Rebecca Auerbach, Jeff Irving, Sam Kalilieh, Michael Rubenfeld, Harveen Sandhu, Razi Shawahdeh.

This plays until January 13, 2013 as part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival.

Wow! The Peace Maker is the real deal. Break down the doors—or in this case, tear the tent flaps—to get a ticket. Natasha Greenblatt has taken the thorny, unsettling, upsetting subject of Israeli/Palestinian relations, and written a wise, thoughtful, prickly, and ultimately glorious play about that heartbreaking subject.

We follow Sophie, a Canadian, who has come to Israel as part of ‘Birthright,’ a trip for Jewish youth to connect with Israel and their place as Jews. Sophie also decides, unbeknownst to her fellow travellers, to apply to teach music to Palestinian children. She deals with Wael in this regard. He is a grieving widower whose wife was killed by Israeli missiles. He does not know Sophie is Jewish. He tells her not to talk about politics to the students; not to discuss Israel. One of her pupils is Haneen, Wael’s angry daughter. She gives new meaning to ‘chip on her shoulder.’ Haneen immediately challenges and rails at Sophie for being there, and to go home. Sophie takes a breath and with patience breaks through the stone wall of Haneen’s prejudice. Haneen is also a gifted musician.

In her zeal to get through to the rest of her students, Sophie arranges for the Palestinian students to go to Jerusalem, where they are ordinarily not allowed to go, to perform a concert for a group of Jewish seniors who are also Holocaust survivors. Sophie firmly believes in the healing power of music. For Haneen and the seniors it is revelatory. For Wael, who eventually finds out, it is infuriating.

Natasha Greenblatt knows whereof she speaks. She spent three months in Israel and Palestine in 2008, right after the attack in Gaza that left 1,300 dead. In The Peace Maker she gives both sides of the story, with all the invective, acrimony, animosity and frustration that has been perpetuated over the years She also covers the misconceptions and misrepresentations of both sides, since, often, they have not actually met each other.

Greenblatt takes no side. I found the play scrupulously fair, nuanced, subtle and perceptive. It presents a picture that is both hopeless and hopeful. The play offers no neat solutions. Greenblatt has a clear, strong voice. Her characters are multi-faceted and beautifully drawn.

Director Jennifer Brewin has directed her strong cast with sensitivity, beautiful pacing and heart. As Sophie, Rebecca Auerbach is eager, optimistic, naïve in an open-hearted way, tenacious, questioning, and creates a character who is a huge part of a tiny possibility of peace and understanding. As Wael, Sam Kalilieh brings a dignity to a man who is suppressing a simmer of emotions that can boil over at any minute. This actor brings that grace and dignity to every character I’ve seen him play. Michael Rubenfeld plays Ronen, a North American who found his place in Israel and offers the ‘Israeli’ side of the story. Easy going, buoyant, accommodating. Rubenfeld beautifully conveys the personal joy, confidence and single mindedness of ‘the converted. And as Haneen, Harveen Sandhu is steely in projecting that chip on her shoulder, which bit by bit, gets chipped away. This is a tough, angry performance of a character who eventually softens and offers another huge part of a tiny possibility of peace and understanding.

The Peace Maker
is a wonderful play that leaves you upset and hopeful. I want to see more plays from Natasha Greenblatt.

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