Theater Review: The Promised Land

The production is passionate, sincere, ingenuous, but also predictable, clichéd, disingenuous.

Habima Theater 521 (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Habima Theater 521
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The Promised Land is passionate, sincere, ingenuous. The Promised Land is predictable, clichéd, disingenuous. Both statements are true. Neither tells all the story of this flawed but oh so very fine production.
The title itself is a bitter irony because for the refugees that do manage to get here in one piece, Israel is mostly anything but a promised land.
In 13 scenes Promised Land tells the stories of three sets of refugees from their mouths and through the people, places and situations they encounter along the way. There’s 12-year-old Nadek and her mother, Ali Adam, and the boy, Emanuel, all Africans.
Oded Ehrlich, Na’ama Armon, Leah Gelfenstein, Harel Morad, Elinor Flaksman, Shahar Raz and Yuval Shlomovitz are the actors, playing all the many parts from terminally obtuse and ignorant Israeli officialdom to vicious militia to concerned locals to the refugees themselves. Each of the cast is magnificent with the actor playing Ali Adam heading the list. That the work matters is obvious. The actors give themselves utterly to each of their several roles, yet manage to keep the necessary distance between player and character.
More than credit is due to director Pitowsky whose choreography of actors and events is, as it was in the Nose, inventive, fluid, expressive and economical. He and his Young Habimans do wonders with very little. Here it’s chairs, clothes and a wire mesh fence.
The most moving moment in Promised Land comes towards the end of the show in a segment called “seeking relatives,” in Hebrew “mador lechipus krovim.” In it present-time refugees and past-time Holocaust survivors seeks news of their loved ones over the radio. In the 50’s and early ’60s Mador was a daily fixture on Israeli radio.
The corollary is obvious. “Remember that you were slaves in the land of Egypt,” the Pessah Seder commands us. Promised Land tells us in no uncertain terms that not only do we ignore that admonition but that we have forgotten the suffering that brought so many of us here in the first place.
And this is where Promised Land falls down. It is all so unrelentingly earnest, such a catalogue of cruelty, woe and tragedy, so obviously an indictment of current government policy. It’s all too much on one note for which a little leaven is required; half a cup of humor, a tablespoon or two of light amid the darkness.