If there is an international conflict gripping the daily headlines more than the Middle Eastern conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, it must be taking place on another planet far away. Decades with no definitive sign of a denouement, hope still springs eternal for many on both sides of the struggle that a resolution to the seven decades of tension and warfare will be met and a new chapter can begin for everyone. This aspect is partially what has gripped playwright Stephen Orlov in recent years, hailing himself from a working class Jewish family in Boston and coming to terms with a strong American Jewish identity, at a time when America finds itself in a contentious, divisive mode of being.
Not one to shy away from social issues and controversy creating hot topics, Orlov paired with the socially conscious and always timely and relevant Teesri Duniya Theatre to tell a story set right here in Montreal, yet alive in the hearts of Arabic and Jewish communities everywhere. This is Birthmark. Presented by MAI (Montréal. Arts Interculturels), the story brings together two Montreal single-parent families from disparate cultures, headed by David Stein – a secular Jewish widower and writer – and his determined son Nelson, as well as Jamila Hassan – a Palestinian teacher with a now-vanished adopted daughter, Karima. Both young people are passionate and bright students, but both feel a calling toward their ancestral homelands and staking a claim for their respective peoples. Nelson wants to give up his promising academic career at McGill University to join an ultra-Orthodox Israeli settlement in the heated West Bank region, while Karima has dropped out of sight from her assuredly bright career path being staked at the Université de Québec à Montréal to tend to a non-descript political mission abroad. The two worried parents, fearing their children are being drawn into a conflict that puts their safety and futures in jeopardy, reluctantly come together to try to help one another’s children and themselves wrestle with long-held secrets from the past.
Orlov, along with brilliant direction from Liz Valdez and Michelle Soicher, yanks the human heart of this story to the forefront, eschewing media depictions of both sides of the conflict’s participants and telling a darkly funny, heartwarming, as well as heart WRENCHING at times, story of human identity, belonging, and the love that binds families together through hardships and struggles. Howard Rosenstein delivers a star turn as the much-concerned David, point-counterpoint to his determined and principled son, played with the fervour that youth (and talent) affords by Patrick Keeler. Natalie Tannous turns heads and touches hearts as the aching Jamila, eager for her daughter’s safe return. That daughter’s feisty cultural passion is exquisitely brought to life by Dalia Charafeddine. And Stephen Spreekmester’s convincing turn as a concerned Rabbi evens out the edges with fine, well-tuned precision.
Prepare to be dazzled, moved, and challenged on any pre-conceived notion or media-shaped paradigm you may be experiencing on this topic ripped straight from the headlines at the Teesri Duniya Theatre until November 18th. Thought-provoking Talkback sessions following some of the performances allow audiences to comfortably digest, process and share what they’ve seen with others who have done the same.
Visit www.teesriduniyatheatre.com/ for more information or call (514) 848-0238 .