'Suspended': Finding refuge outside 45th floor

How do you represent 45 stories up in a small theater space?

A SCENE from ‘Suspended.’ (photo credit: YOSSI TZVEKER)
A SCENE from ‘Suspended.’
(photo credit: YOSSI TZVEKER)
By Maya Arad Yasor
Directed by Yigal Zaks
Tmuna Theater, February 1
They are suspended between the Earth and sky, between hope and despair, between a frightful past and an uncertain future. Suspended is a play about refugees that won its author first prize at the UNESCO International Playwriting Competition.
Refugees Izak (Pini Gueta) and Benjamin (Avi Serussi), suspended from bosuns’ chairs, are cleaning windows on the 45th floor of a skyscraper in an unnamed city. The window they are cleaning looks into the conference room of an office where the employees are waiting for their boss’s arrival.
But he does not arrive. Could it be that the boot Izak has dropped has killed him just as he was arriving? Could it be that the boot has caused some other kind of mayhem involving the boss? Is the boot even involved in what’s happening 45 stories below?
Izak and Benjamin don’t want to know or get involved. Benjamin is illegal anyway, and Izak has obtained his refugee status by lying about his past, a gruesome past which closely links them in ways neither wants to remember but must because Benjamin has inveigled this gig with his former childhood friend for that very purpose.
How do you represent 45 stories up in a small theater space? Ingeniously. Dafna Peretz’s set has the bottom of the stage screened off by a “sky” cloth, and the actors dangle above that in their hanging chairs.
The characters’ story is heart-rending, endlessly replicated in those of the real-life refugees who desperately attempt to find a refuge somewhere, anywhere away from the wars and slaughter in the countries which they fled.
We know all about that. We were refugees for thousands of years, settling and uprooted, settling and slaughtered until the modern State of Israel. Until the creation of a nation state that offered Jews a home, a perhaps precarious home because its territory is also claimed as home by another people, but still a home, a shelter that it does not now extend to others in the same plight.
The characters are outside, looking in at a life that is still remote from them. Seeing a cleaning woman wearing a hijab inside, Benjamin remarks bitterly, “That’s as far as we can get.”
Yet for all their tragic immediacy, we remain emotionally remote from events. Both actors are excellent, refraining from soap opera-type sentiment and pathos, but their characters seem to be more mouthpieces for the playwright’s message – that yes, we are our brothers’ keepers – than characters in their own right.