THE PEACE MAKER by Natasha Greenblatt (Pomme Grenade). See listing.
Times: January 8, 10 and 13 at 9:15 pm, January 9 at 7 pm, January 12 at 4:30 pm. $12-$15. 416-966-1062. Rating: NNNN
Exploring the tension between Israel and Palestine, Natasha Greenblatt's The Peace Maker provides a kaleidoscope of questions rather than firm solutions. She paints no villains, only characters who passionately believe in their respective causes.
Canadian Sophie (Rebecca Auerbach) goes on a Birthright trip - a free first-time visit to Israel for young Jews living outside the country - led by the charming, humorous Ronen (Michael Rubenfeld), later extending her time in the Middle East by working in a Palestinian music school run by Wael (Sam Kalilieh).
In the Israeli part of Sophie's stay, she becomes involved with Oran (Jeff Irving), one of the soldiers travelling with the tourists; while teaching music, which she believes has the power to heal, she befriends Wael's daughter, Haneen (Harveen Sandhu), and her Palestinian translator, Saif (Razi Shawahdeh).
Greenblatt's script cleverly moves back and forth between Sophie's related trips; its climax is the concert she arranges by her Palestinian pupils for a Jewish group in Jerusalem. Designer Glenn Davidson's set and lighting move us smoothly from one political world to the other, with Raha Javanfar's projections helping the transitions.
It's a well-told story under Jennifer Brewin's direction, with the music played by seven musicians helping to enrich the narrative. The cast is generally strong, though Auerbach doesn't really flesh Sophie out until the Jerusalem concert. That's when we see the character's naivete as something of a hindrance, despite her good intentions. She looks for the results she can accomplish rather than anticipating the consequences of her actions; they're not the same thing.
The standout performances include Rubenfeld's Ronen, whose personality slowly changes from appealing to intractable and hard-edged; Kalilieh's ironic, stubborn Wael, who ignores his instinct and gives Sophie an increasingly wide rein; and Sandhu's musical Haneen, initially distrustful, then won over by Sophie's optimism and finally a hurt, disappointed devotee. Keep an eye on the talented, insightful Sandhu; she's a real talent.