Brighton Fringe 2013
A Jewish American woman travels to find her homeland in Israel but instead discovers political atrocities which she needs to make sense of. Hearing the stories of both Israelis and Palestinians, she comes to terms with what she really believes and is able to obtain acceptance of this by her Jewish grandmother who wanted her to go the homeland in the first place.
The essence of Saria Idana is a combination of that which is not often combinable; a Jewish New Yorker who is actually a Sufi Moslem, not chosen to be a Sufi but brought up as one while maintaining her Jewish identity – and that includes the Yiddish grandmother. Idana goes off to try and fathom this identity by travelling to Israel as part of a Birthright group; an Israeli programme to enable young Jews to visit Israel with the hope that they will meet someone Jewish and bring Jewish children into the world. She speaks to family members there, young Israeli soldiers, activists against the Wall separating the two states, and others who see Arabs as the enemy. Instead of staying within the confines of Israel, Idana goes off through the turnstiles and worlds that separate the two states and hears stories from the other side.
Interweaving the move from character to character and facilitating the transition, she makes use of a minimal though powerful set including a long bright red cloth which traverses the entire stage. She manipulates it to cover herself, make into a tent, form boundaries and even fashions a sukkah. She uses shawls and various articles of clothing to help transform her into these different characters, but they are almost unnecessary, so effective and powerful are her acting skills. She works her way through seventeen different characters enveloping them and becoming the different individuals through voice, accent, expression, movement to such an extent that at one point her lithe body becomes a plump Arab man’s as she walks up steps after serving an audience member some tea.
The atmosphere was enhanced by an excellent soundscape which seemed to have been recorded directly off the streets of Jerusalem and Hebron. It added to the atmosphere which was enhanced by splendid movement and dance. Idana is clearly gifted not only in acting but in movement and singing as well.
Some audience members may have felt the piece to be unbalanced politically, in giving greater credence to the Palestinian than the Israeli viewpoint. Certainly the Arab characters were far more sympathetically portrayed than the Israeli. But I feel that this is her personal perspective and her own journey and the truth of that was what was important rather than any objective polemic.
This was a stunning piece of theatre but I felt it would have benefitted massively from some cutting. Although she was able to evoke enormous understanding from a simple expression or movement (such as the granddaughter talking to the grandmother), in other characters she went on far too long and expounded rather than implied, which would have been even more powerful.
This was an enjoyable evening, where certainly this audience member’s greatest reaction was one of admiration at skill rather than an unforgettable theatrical experience. I have to say, this was not helped by the constant clicking of a camera right behind my ear.