THE ARAB-ISRAELI COOKBOOK by Robin Soans, directed by Joel Greenberg (Studio 180). At Berkeley Street Upstairs (26 Berkeley). Runs to April 1. $15-$35, some Monday pwyc. See Continuing, page 80. 416-368-3110, 416-872-1212. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
The Arab-Israeli cookbook provides some tastily seasoned treats, but it's not a totally filling theatrical meal.
Based on interviews with some 80 Arab, Israeli and Palestinian citizens, Robin Soans 's play is an interconnected series of character sketches.
The people we meet live in a tense society, acknowledging the stress of suicide bombers and a regular military presence while trying to get on with their lives.
Theirs is a world of walls, blockades and checkpoints, of walk-in trauma clinics, machine-gun bullet holes in residential gates and wariness when sitting in the front window of a restaurant.
Playing over 30 characters, the seven actors offer compelling tales that often start in the ordinary and then swerve into a memory of an explosion or a hail of bullets. You can practically feel the audience draw in its collective breath when the mundane becomes charged with danger.
The shared experience of preparing and eating a meal links both the stories and the performers, and the smell of garlic, olive oil and cooking meat fills the theatre. Each of the actors has a chance to shine.
Impressive are Maria Ricossa 's articulate American-born settler and later a proud Arab mother who's lost two sons in the intifada; David Fox and Barbara Gordon as an older couple nervous about going out into a dangerous city; and Kimwun Perehinec as a mother recalling a Passover bombing in a grocery store.
Victor Ertmanis connects us emotionally with a hummus maker whose product suffers from closed borders, and later with an Israeli bus driver cut off from his Arab riders and friends, while Mark McGrinder and Jeff Miller are lots of fun as an affectionate gay couple in Tel Aviv with their own take on achieving harmony in an anxious world.
I wish there were more scenes with sparks like those between the two guys. There's a sameness to much of the material the normal turns dark in some fashion that Joel Greenberg 's direction fails to modulate.
The stories, peppered with violence but often with a hope for peace, accumulate without building in a satisfyingly emotional fashion until partway through the second act.