Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How His Bride Came to Abraham, None Too Fragile Theater

(NTF chooses not to provide production photos of their shows and this blog chooses to place images at the start of each review. So...here's a photo that makes sense, sort of, once you read what follows.)

It’s no revelation that the large religious and cultural divisions in the Middle East always come down to personal stories and individual moments of either beauty or tragedy. But it never hurts to be reminded.

And in How His Bride Came to Abraham by Karen Sunde, now at None Too Fragile Theater in Akron, those hostilities are embodied in two people: a male Israeli soldier and a female Palestinian terrorist. They meet war-cute in the Israeli zone of southern Lebanon.

That obviously sets us up for massive fireworks, but the play slips a gear right at the start. First, Sabra, the young woman is helping Abraham limp into a hiding place she had established earlier. Then, they fight each other. And immediately after that, Sabra is gently tending to Abraham’s injured foot.

These fast switchbacks, within a few minutes, never let the audience fix on the mindsets of these two stressed out young people. And that makes the ensuing dialogue—ranging over all manner of inflicted injuries and atrocities, hopes and dreams—less compelling than it might be if we really understood who these two were from the start.

The complex relationship between the two eventually gets intimate before the inevitable tragedy that ends the talk for good. And there are some telling moments, as when Abraham says, reflecting on his family’s tortured past, “How can I keep death alive inside me?”

Meanwhile, the playwright reaches for political balance, showing how innocent young people are dragged into these conflicts when their individual inclinations might take them somewhere else entirely.

It’s a big task. And while the play does raise important points about the connections these two have with their countries and their families (Abraham’s grandmother’s voice is heard from time to time), the resulting “peaceful” fusion they create feels less monumental than the playwright intends.

As directed by Sean Derry, the two actors handling this ambitious material are starkly believable, even when the scenes are less so. Leighann Niles Delorenzo is wiry and focused as Sabra and Gabriel Riazi matches her intensity while adding a charming layer of naïveté. Grappling with each other on a mound of sandy dirt on the small NTF stage, each turns in an admirable portrayal.

But the oversimplification of what it takes to quell conflicts like these undermines a promising script. If playwright Sunde had not tried to wrap everything up so neatly, the play might resonate more clearly in a world where solutions are sought more than achieved.

How His Bride Came to Abraham
Through December 8 at None Too Fragile Theater, 1841 Merriman Road, Akron, 330-671-4563

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