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New York Theater

Desert Sunrise

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Recipe for "Desert Sunrise": Combine in equal proportions noble ideals, earnest intentions, fantasy, realism, multicultural performers, and one of the hottest trouble spots in today's world. Volatile ingredients, to be sure. But there are other elements required for a good theatre piece -- namely, organization, clarity, and a story that moves forward.

Thus the problems of "Desert Sunrise." Written and directed by Misha Shulman, an Israeli army veteran, it works to bring the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the forefront. But it is so ambitious in its use of poetry, symbolism, dance, and Oriental shadow puppetry that it comes off as an overheated muddle. Nor does the opening dialogue in Hebrew and Arabic help sort things out. And when the characters finally turn to English, it is difficult to accept a simple Palestinian shepherd's command of that language.

That shepherd is at the core of the story. Shulman, to do him credit, draws on history as it has been played out south of Hebron. He focuses on the plight of the shepherds who have lived for centuries in its desert caves -- an area called Jbal el Khalil -- until the Israeli intrusion, that is, which has all but destroyed their world. Shulman brings together just such a shepherd and an Israeli soldier who is lost and wandering in the desert. Initially hostile, the two men gradually bond as they share a joint of hashish, but a woman's intrusion brings violence and disaster to the scene.

While there are gifted performances from the actors playing the three -- Aubrey Levy as the soldier, Haythem Noor as the shepherd, and the exquisite Alice Borman as the woman -- it is all too frenetic, too chaotic, too pointless. But in that respect, Shulman's play may indeed be an accurate reflection of the Israeli scene.

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