Arian Moayed, Lameece Issaq, and
Waleed F. Zuaiter in The Fever Chart
(© Joan Marcus)
Arian Moayed, Lameece Issaq, and
Waleed F. Zuaiter in The Fever Chart
(© Joan Marcus)
Naomi Wallace has a wonderful way with language. In The Fever Chart: Three Visions of the Middle East -- being presented as part of The Public Theater's Lab Initiative -- there are spoken passages that are absolutely stunning, showcasing the playwright's poetic ability to conjure images. "Sometimes a death is more than a loss," says one character. "It's an abyss. A quiet howling."

As the show's subtitle suggests, the work is comprised of three one-acts that explore Middle East political tensions and human connections, often in dreamlike or surreal imaginings. Director Jo Bonney nicely emphasizes the heightened reality of these playlets without making them seem overly precious.

A State of Innocence revolves around an Israeli soldier named Yuval (solidly performed by Arian Moayed) who encounters a mysterious Palestinian woman (unevenly portrayed by Lameece Issaq) and Israeli architect (a charming Waleed F. Zuaiter) at a zoo where the animals lose body parts overnight and grow them back over the course of the day. The piece weaves in the Israeli Defense Force's housing demolition campaign that has left thousands of Palestinians homeless, as well as the IDF's destruction of the Rafah Zoo in the Gaza Strip. But while the play is sharply critical of both actions, it doesn't try to scapegoat Yuval, who is painted rather sympathetically. It is a meditative piece on death and mourning that focuses on what these people have in common despite the tensions that tear them apart.

A similar focus on unanticipated connections dominates the second piece of the evening, Between This Breath and You. A Palestinian man named Mourid (Zuaiter) arrives at a medical clinic to see an Israeli nurse's aide named Tanya (Natalie Gold). He tells her things about herself that he should have no way of knowing, and spins a tale that links her to him through his dead son, who was killed by Israeli soldiers. Zuaiter and Gold don't have much onstage chemistry, which makes some of their interactions feel labored.

Still, the piece contains some of Wallace's most beautiful writing, such as this speech by Mourid: "Did you know [...] that wind has no sound? What makes the sound are the things it touches -- branch, cliff, roof. All that rushing is the contact between one thing and another. Without that meeting point between two worlds, the harshest wind is silent." Even better, such evocative language is put in service of a truly touching tale full of humor (including a comic turn by Moayed as a disturbed janitor), conflict, and reconciliation.

The final short play, This Retreating World, is a monologue delivered by the excellent Omar Metwally as Ali, an Iraqi man whose interest in birds is inextricably tied to his grieving for friends and family. It traces Ali's life history from his days as a bird collector through to his conscription into Saddam's army, and the slaughter that he says ensued when he and other Iraqi soldiers tried to surrender to U.S. forces. It culminates in a magical final image that is startling in its simplicity and effectiveness.

Wallace definitely has a pro-Palestinian viewpoint that comes across in the first two pieces, and a sympathetic outlook towards the Iraqi people in the third. But that does not necessarily mean her perspective is anti-Israeli or anti-American. A fever chart is a way of measuring data that changes over time. The playwright documents hardships and atrocities that have already occurred, but she still holds out the possibility of hope for the future.