REVIEW: Theater J’s minimalist ‘The Admission’ tackles hard truths behind Middle East conflict.

Elizabeth Anne Jernigan and Danny Gavigan in Theatre J's "The Admission." (Photo by C. Stanley Photography)

Elizabeth Anne Jernigan and Danny Gavigan in Theatre J’s “The Admission.” (Photo by C. Stanley Photography)

It may be that one day in the distant future the turmoil, hatred and ambiguity of Arab-Israeli relations will settle into peaceful coexistence. But at this point in history, it seems unlikely. The ugly memories of 1948 and 1967 are still raw, as if they happened yesterday, and both sides are afflicted with long memories with neither side holding the high moral ground.

Ever since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, the Middle East — which has always been in turmoil — became an even more turbulent arena. The world powers at that time arbitrarily began drawing up the framework to establish a Jewish land in Palestine. That idea came to fruition after World War II when the victorious powers — justifiably feeling guilty about ignoring the systematic murdering of millions of Jews — set out in 1948 to create Israel on what was Palestinian land. The world powers did not ask the Arabs who had lived there for centuries what they thought or wanted.

The bitter memories of the bloody battles of 1948 long buried is Motti Lerner’s inspiration for “The Admission,” now in a workshop performance in the Jewish Community Center’s Theater J. Lerner’s insightful play explores this festering, unspoken history through two families — one Palestinian, one Israeli — who have been friends for years. While “The Admission” is essentially a nearly finished work in progress, it is minimal in its setting — a couple of tables and chairs — with simple everyday costumes and few props. Under Sinai Peter’s unobtrusive direction, the play projects a profound dependence on the words to reveal the painful confrontation in the search for the truth behind the terrible crimes of 1948 that refuse to stay buried. To his credit, the minimalism — at times more clinical than emotional — is effective.

In “The Admission,” the Palestinian family operates a small restaurant established with funding from the wealthy patriarch of the Israeli family, which runs a construction company. The son of the elder Arab, Azmi (Pomme Koch), runs the restaurant. His sister, Samya (Leila Buck), is in love with the Jewish father’s son, Giora (Danny Gavigan), who was crippled while fighting in Lebanon. Giora’s family is pressuring him to go into his father’s construction business and to marry a Jewish girl, Neta (Elizabeth Anne Jernigan).

This is not a Romeo and Juliet story, although there are obvious parallels. The play is also described as an homage to Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons,” but that too is a bit of a stretch. What is at stake is the site of what had once been a small Arab village where a bloody battle took place in 1948. The patriarch of the Israeli family, Avigdor (Michael Tolaydo), was the Israeli commander of what was a massacre of Palestinians, including women and children. Giora is determined to learn the truth that his father refuses to discuss. The elder Palestinian, Ibrahim (Hanna Eady), who witnessed the fighting, doesn’t want to see Avigdor build a new town on top of the bones of those Palestinians who remain buried at the site in unmarked graves.

Giora’s mother, Yona (Kimberly Schraf), and Azmi desperately want Giora to leave this dark, hidden history alone, fearing that nothing good can come of the truth. As with all secrets, however, a truth comes out. In the horror of conflict there are no definitive answers; the truth is elusive. “The Admission” forces Arabs and Jews to understand that if they are ever to overcome the deep resentments and fears that still permeate every aspect of life in the Middle East they must accept that salvation and survival lies in mutual understanding and respect. Neither side can endure without the other; they are all neighbors in this together.

Produced in collaboration with the Cameri Theatre and the Arab-Hebrew Theatre of Jaffa, “The Admission” runs through April 27 at Theater J in the Jewish Community Center, 1529 16th St. NW. Tickets start at $30 and are available at 800-494-8497 and online here.

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