Arian Moayed, Sanjit De Silva, and Daoud Heidami in Masked
(© Aaron Epstein)
Arian Moayed, Sanjit De Silva, and Daoud Heidami in Masked
(© Aaron Epstein)
If there are shards of hope in the increasingly grim Middle East situation, they may not be most effectively bonded by politicians like newly appointed peacemaker Tony Blair, but rather by theater offerings such as Masked, now at the DR2.

This tense drama about three Palestinian brothers was written in 1990 by Ilan Hatsor, an Israeli student; and while his work (translated here by Michael Taub) is not thoroughly convincing, its very existence suggests there are people on one side of the conflict trying to imagine what people on the other side are encountering. Surely, empathy is at least the helpful beginning of resolution.

At the outset of the 70-minute show, 20-year-old Khalid (Sanjit De Silva) has his hands bloodied not because he's committed a crime, but because he's cleaning up his butcher shop while conversing with older brother Na'im (Arian Moayed). Na'im, a freedom fighter usually on the lam from the Israeli army in the nearby mountains, has come to tell Khalid that their eldest brother Daoud (Daoud Heidami) has been named a traitor and is about to be interrogated by other avenging freedom fighters.

Affairs are worse than Na'im initially lets on. When Daoud arrives to greet his brothers, Na'im insists that Daoud has collaborated with the Israelis and is the reason why a rally held some time before was quelled violently -- and during which their youngest brother, Nadal, was shot and reduced to a vegetative state. What initially appears to be a relatively serene sibling reunion quickly turns into a welter of accusations, denials, tentative admissions, recriminations, and retributions -- not only verbal ones but realistically physical ones (as staged by Christian-Kelly Sordelet). Hatsor is to be particularly commended for the pressure-cooker dialogue among brothers who love one another but hate what each other stands for.

Nevertheless, he stumbles a few times, although to go into specific detail would spoil many of the show's intriguing plot developments. Moreover, Masked belongs to that particular category of play about the problems of oppressed people in which the characters involved are forced to lash out -- often fatally -- at each other rather than at their oppressors.

As guided skillfully by director Ami Dayan, De Silva, Moayed, and Heidami all catch the pathos deeply inherent in the play. They don't shy away from the frequent pummeling the characters give one another as the power constantly shifts. It's as if three wary middle-weight boxers are circling each other in a ring where the stools are cinder blocks. Yet, there's at least one more level of sinister behavior that might have been explored in order to thicken the threatening atmosphere.

Make no mistake, the heart-sore Hatsor doesn't absolve his fellow Israelis of the sad state of being on the West Bank -- a dramaturgical tactic that can't have made him immensely popular with many other Jews. Yet, as plays of this sort accrue, it's likely that audiences viewing them will be encouraged to settle their differences when those differences are shown to be not so different after all. If Masked contributes to the hastening of that great day, that's more than enough to be said in its favor.