Adam Green and Utkarsh Ambudkar
in Dov and Ali
(© Erik Pearson)
Adam Green and Utkarsh Ambudkar
in Dov and Ali
(© Erik Pearson)
Far from a sitcom or buddy movie, Anna Ziegler's effective if less-than-psychologically complex play, Dov and Ali, now at the Cherry Lane Studio under Katherine Kovner's sympathetic direction, focuses on two seemingly different men: Dov (Adam Green), an Orthodox Jew, and Ali (Utkarsh Ambudkar), a strictly-by-the-Koran Muslim, who are respectively an English teacher and student at a Detroit high school.

While the pair obviously come from radically different religious backgrounds and view the world from contrasting perspectives, there are similarities between them that Ziegler sees as crucial. Not only do they literally share the same dreams at night -- which is indeed challenging for an observer to buy -- but they're both held tightly in the sway of dictatorial fathers.

During the action, Ali all but stalks Dov after class with taunts about the meaning of Lord of the Flies and discrepancies between Ali's attitude toward existence as unremittingly black-and-white and Dov's far less absolutist convictions. At the same time, the resemblance between Ali's relationship with his sister Sameh (Anitha Gandhi) and Dov's relationship with his non-Jewish live-in lover Sonya (Heidi Armbruster) becomes increasingly emphasized.

For both men, adherence to their parent's beliefs has clouded their judgment and greatly impaired their own independence. In Dov's case, parental domination has kept him from agreeing to marry Sonya, who has no doubt that he loves her but slowly realizes that their shared feelings won't prevail. Meanwhile, Ari is so mired in the Muslim sense of women's inferiority that he refuses to acknowledge Sameh's growing affection for a boy who doesn't buy Islam wholeheartedly.

In addition to their shared obtuseness, neither Dov nor Ali is perceptive enough to understand that Ali's constant baiting is a cry for help -- and therefore neither can own up to the situation. Unable to see beyond their own limitations, Dov eventually does possibly irreparable harm to Sonya, and Ali causes a drastic and likely irreversible change in Sameh's position. Indeed, only after the damage is done do the two men question their motives and assumptions. As a matter of fact, towards the play's close, Ziegler has Ali say to Dov, "I just don't think, Mr. Gold -- with all due respect -- that life is about pleasing our fathers." It's a remark that pretty much puts the play's message in a nutshell, which isn't the sort of thing that counts as the mark of a subtle playwright at work.

Conversely, the two women have no such debilitating problems. Sonya -- with her straight blond hair -- and Sameh -- in a hijab she only removes briefly -- are completely clear-eyed and focused. And perhaps Ziegler is even right in suggesting that women are realists and men are dreamers. More importantly, though, Green, Ambudkar, Gandhi, and Armbruster enhance the work's strengths and minimize its obvious weaknesses.