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Sunday, October 4, 2015

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Play examines Middle East conflict

Tags: Arts
Bob Legare as Barry and Nicole Marie McCafferty as Rachel in A Tiny Piece of Land

TORONTO — How can Israelis and Palestinians live in harmony? What land belongs to whom? What is it like being an Israeli in the Holy Land?

These are some of the heady questions explored in A Tiny Piece of Land, presented by Teatron Theatre and running at the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts until Jan. 15.

This modern American play tells the story of two brothers with opposite worldviews: Yossi (Geoff Kolomayz) ended up moving to Israel and embraced Zionism, while Barry (Bob Legare) is a typical middle-class American Jew who wants nothing to do with Israel. The play explores the tense family dynamics arising from the brothers butting heads over who’s right and who’s misguided.

 “The beauty is that it’s not really a political play, but a family play,” says Ari Weisberg, artistic director of Teatron Theatre. The writers, Joni Browne-Walders and husband Mel Weiser, not only wanted to show both sides of the Middle East conflict, but also explore the relationships of a family divided by their entrenched beliefs.

Still, Weisberg points out, “you can’t be a Jew in Israel without having an opinion on politics,” and A Tiny Piece of Land frames the brothers’ arguments in a way that lets audience members make their own decisions on this thought-provoking issue.

The production, directed and set-designed by Weisberg, also stars local actors Tara Nicodemo, and Nicole Marie McCafferty.

Theatre aficionados will also hear echoes of another Middle East play on this stage: Weisberg says the writers were influenced by My Name is Rachel, the controversial play about activist Rachel Corrie, who died while protesting the demolition of a Palestinian home by Israeli military bulldozers. The writers have said they wanted to create a response to the play showing Israel’s point of view.

In a 2010 interview, Browne-Walders said that other Israeli issues also inspired the play. “We discussed the pullout from the Gush Katif [Gaza] in August 2005. The government forced the settlers out to let Palestinians move in, but the Palestinians have since used the land to shoot rockets into Israel. They’ve destroyed everything there, even though they were living there. Why? Because the Israelis had used it.”

A Tiny Piece of Land doesn’t just focus on serious topics. It also includes flashes of humour, and Weisberg believes the play isn’t so heavy that young adults won’t enjoy it. “I want the audience to be left with a deeper understanding of the family challenges in Israel,” he adds.

A Tiny Piece of Land follows Teatron’s 2011 run of political plays, such as Deceived, the story of American-Jewish spy Jonathan Pollard. Teatron plans to go a bit lighter in 2012, staging the comedy Can I Really Date a Guy Who Wears a Yarmulke? in March. Weisberg says Teatron is also considering staging a production of Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lev at some point in 2012.

A Tiny Piece of Land runs at the Toronto Centre for the Performing Arts from Jan.4 to Jan. 15. For tickets, visit www.teatrontheatre.com.

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