by Marcina Zaccaria
“Eyes,” a production by The Arab-Hebrew Theater Center, at the Between the Seas Festival, centers around the life of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Darwish’s words, brooding and soulful, serve as the poetic backbone of the play. The play asks, can you can hear the call of an echo within an echo?
Performed in both Hebrew and Arabic, “Eyes” can be appreciated, in part, by reading the English translation in supertitles. Videotaped footage of an adamant Darwish begins the play. Throughout the play, Darwish travels between his childhood in Galilee to his exile in Lebanon. He encounters his mother, his revered teacher Shoshanna, and Rita, his Jewish lover. With constant repetition, we hear the ideas of Darwish, who passed away in 2008.
The words of Darwish are spoken or sung. His poems are presented like postcards as the play unfolds. On the spare stage, Doraid Liddawi, who portrays Darwish, scrawls in chalk on black cubes and on the floor downstage. Director Norman Issa provides live video images on a screen upstage. They are magnifications of the performers on the stage, and provide a chance to see everything a bit larger and perhaps clearer.
The supporting cast, including Mira Awad, Einat Weizmann, Anat Hadid, are strong actors and movement artists. Their co-producer, the Arab-Hebrew Theatre, is a unique organization that serves as a model for creative collaboration between Arabs and Jews. Residing within the historical museum of old Jaffa, an important Mediterranean port from the Second Millennium B.C., the theater is supported by the Tel Aviv Municipality and the Ministry of Culture.
There are four players in “Eyes” who celebrate the words of Darwish while considering profound ideas like the distinction between love and hate. Their performances are often wistful. When asking about going back home, they take their space on stage without arrogance or extraordinary humility. Their honest performances are consistent throughout the show. In asking questions like how can love lead to exhaustion, they are cautious without being reticent.
Musician Mira Awad is a defining force within the connective tissue of the play. With voice, drum, and wind instruments, Awad is not so much a guide but a storyteller. Her melodies present the conflicts and experiences of living in the region as well as comment on the action of the action of the play. Awad’s voice is earthy, rich, and deeply grounded. The performance of her original music is affirming and sometimes haunting. With every lilt and bellow, we were asked to see the refugees torn by their journey.
The sequence about homeland being a suitcase is compelling. In the drama onstage, there was an extraordinary sadness and deep longing. In following these refugees, the audience is asked, how do you define and structure a home when you are asked to leave your homeland? What role do inspectors and the Military Police play? When this was part of your everyday, how do you find solace and commonality?
At the end of the 55 minute play, I was left wanting more. Perhaps, I wanted a deeper solution to the arguments presented. Perhaps, I wanted to see a broader range of performance styles. “Eyes” is impressive, though, and an interesting glimpse into an area of Mediterranean culture.
Founded in 2010, Between the Seas is a Performing Arts Festival that aims to promote the representation and understanding of Mediterranean culture and identity. The Festival lasts for one week and includes performances in the fields of dance, music and theater. With an eclectic programming of performances that previously included Egypt, Israel, Greece, Lebanon, Italy, Spain, Turkey, Canada, Morocco and the US, the festival has offered NYC audiences over 20 new works. Shows from this year’s festival were performed at the Wild project located at 195 East 3rd Street. For additional information, feel free to visit www.betweentheseas.org.