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'Masked' Unwrapped

August 9, 2007 By:
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Director Ami Dayan
Ami Dayan has one eye on history, the other on the present.

The cousin of Moshe Dayan serves as director general of a bard's battlefield, bringing to the stage wars of words that clash like flinty unsheathed swords forged in Rashomon-like steel.

He has created quite an acclaimed career for himself since immigrating from Israel in 1999, meeting the millennium with some rocky mountain high productions in his adopted home of Colorado, chipping away at the mainstream as he makes Boulder a bastion of rock-solid stagings.

The man himself -- also the title of the Alan Drury play he produced last year in New York, and which is featured to be filmed soon -- is an adventurer, adapting plays for the stage that can have avalanche-type repercussions. But he stands there braced at the ever ready for the oversized snowball to come, ski mask not blinding him to the whiteout he may be about to face.

His latest as director, "Masked," is a mosque of internecine infighting among three Palestinian brothers whose bloodied butcher-shop setting serves to beef up the battle between them as they face facts of defying and collaborating with Israelis.

Just opened at New York's DR2 Theater, it is a West Bank story in which these Mideast Jets and Sharks may stick to their own kind, but are not necessarily on the same side -- a sticking point of allegiances and allegations in this rumble of a drama by Israeli Ilan Hatsor, whose first play it was 17 years ago.

The intifada informs this insurrection of a piece as one of the brothers, Daoud, is damned by another (Na'im -- an anti-Israeli guerrilla gorged on the blood of vengeance) for possibly serving as an informer.

When Na'im returns from hiding in the hills to root out the traitors, will it be his brother's own blood he brandishes in the butcher shop?

Though first staged in 1990, "Masked" faces up to current-day dilemmas and dangers that seem cemented in the unshifting sands of the Mideast. It may all seem a family squabble, but one that squares with fears and fatwas that have fulminated in the area for eons.

"The first time I read it -- in the '90s -- I was struck by the brilliance of its dramatic structure," recalls Dayan, "especially placing it within the time of the intifada was mind-boggling."

But would such a setting bog down its meaning for audiences?

Didn't seem to matter in Israel, says the director, where audiences settled on the play as a sensation. "It is something Israel needed to see in 1990," he adds, citing "wall-to-wall praise."

Will Americans climb that wall? "America needs it now, too."

But Baghdad as off-Broadway stand-by? Politics makes for some strange bedfellows, but these onstage brothers are embedded with mutual concerns that put them at odds with other allegiances.

This is not a political play -- not a polemic, points out Dayan -- and people will not walk out pointing fingers, but pinpointing the plot points that pierce their emotions.

Or that's what he hopes. But as the brothers on stage show, when push comes to shove, someone may take a fall.

"We've had discussions in congregations and forums," he says of bringing the drama's message to synagogues and JCCs, as well as churches, also arranging for Arab-Israeli dialogue.

But will the scripted dialogue on stage unmask innate fears faced by audiences?

"You don't have to be Palestinian," he replies, "to face the basic circumstances" these brothers do.

Indeed, "Masked" has made news worldwide in the years since it copped Israel's Akko Festival Award for top drama. But Dayan knows the drama may not be limited to the stage.

"I've heard it from both sides," he says, recalling an older Jewish couple at a past performance who asked, "What about our side?" and then being prodded by a pro-Palestinian with "How dare you tell our story!"

"The heart of the play is the struggle of three brothers; it is not about Israel but what these brothers face," says the director.

"Masked" is also an about-face from what Dayan first intended to do. Dayan -- who also starred in a previous production of the play -- was all set to stage "Kiss of the Spider Woman" for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts last year when Palestinian voters seemed to give the kiss off to prospects of Mideast peace by electing Hamas to power.

That "Kiss" turned to an embrace of the fractious brothers of "Masked" as a more relevant piece.

What would Moshe say?

Ami's late cousin, of course, was Israel's legendary firebrand of a warrior, who helped sweep the nation to victory 40 years ago in the Six-Day War.

But these days ... "It's difficult to say" what Moshe would have said about this portrayal of Palestinians. "But it was clear in his last days he was deeply involved in the peace process."

Would he buy this piece of the action as depicted theatrically?

It's not even certain that playwright Hatsor would, since recently he was quoted as saying, "Many Israelis felt more and more sympathy for the Palestinian struggle" at the time he wrote "Masked."

Now? "I feel less sympathy than when I wrote the play."

But, in 2007, will "Masked" play into the hands of protesters?

Says the director: "I don't anticipate a firestorm" of protest over this play. "We are in no way saying that Palestinians are right and we are wrong."

He will say this, however: "As [late Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin said, never demonize your enemies; humanize them.

"And, especially now, it's important to do so." 

 

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