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It's easy to forget that Ilan Hatsor's tinderbox of a play, Masked — which opened last weekend and runs through August 7 at GableStage — was written 21 years ago. That's because Masked, through aggressive, brooding, and sobering performances from its three stars, plumbs the depths of the still-raw emotions of the divisive Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Written in 1990, three years after the first intifada (Palestinian resistance), the one-act play (translated from Hebrew by Michael Taub) reveals the toxicity that pervades war and its countless and often nameless victims.
In a village on the West Bank, three Palestinian brothers — Daoud, Na'im, and Khalid — are torn between their obligations to family, ideology, and their own survival. Middle brother Na'im (Nick Duckart) is ensconced in the Palestinian resistance. He is among the leadership's most trusted fighters, attends rallies, and is not afraid to get his hands dirty. The eldest brother, Daoud (Carlos Orizondo), is a new father and a dishwasher at a Tel Aviv restaurant. The youngest, Khalid (Abdiel Gabriel), is headstrong and impressionable.
Simmering beneath the surface are rampant rumors that Daoud has turned informant for the Israeli government, while the brothers are still dealing with a tragedy that recently rocked their world. Na'im was attending a rally with their 7-year-old brother when Israeli soldiers suddenly arrived and fired into the crowd when things escalated. The boy was shot in the head and rendered an invalid. It was a horrifying moment. "Even the soldiers in the streets looked away," Na'im emotionally recalls. It sets in motion an explosive confrontation among the three brothers that reflects the horrors of war and exposes the perils the men face daily from both sides of the divide.
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Were the Israelis notified of the rally? And, if so, did Daoud tip them off?
These questions ramp up the intensity, drawing searing dialogue and blistering performances from the trio of actors, particularly Orizondo, whose restrained anguish as Daoud finally ruptures as the story unravels.
Tensions boil when a highly suspicious Na'im conducts a mock interrogation with his older brother to preview what he should expect from the Palestinian leadership, which has caught wind of the rumors that Daoud is an Israeli collaborator. Khalid, meanwhile, does his best to keep his two older brothers from going at each other, and at times it turns physical. Khalid struggles to remain a moderating force between the two men while fighting to stay true to his own convictions and ideals.
Young Khalid wrestles with the difficult choice facing all three men: loyalty to blood or loyalty to an ideology. Gabriel skillfully pulls off Khalid's inner conflict, portraying his struggle with a youthful, idealistic zeal. He wants everything to be as he sees it in his mind and heart, but knows deep down there are no happy endings in his world.
Duckart's intensely subdued performance as Na'im is the glue of the production. He is equal parts combustible supporter of the cause and loving, devoted brother, while dealing with guilt over their little brother's shooting.
All along, a sense of foreboding hangs over the men as the Palestinian leadership closes in on the brothers' location to interrogate Daoud, a fate that seldom ends well.
The strain felt by the men is palpable, and Daoud, who is just a working stiff trying to make good for himself and his family, feels it the most, falling into emotional outbursts. His bitterness and anxiety become the catalyst of his fear. At one point, driven by the angst of his terrifying predicament, he exclaims, "I'm going to fuck this whole village! House by house, I'll comb through it with them, pointing people out — and I know everybody. All the masked ones, they will all fall into their hands, or else they'll run away like mice when they hear them coming."
It is full of psychodrama that plays out the intensity and dread of men at the height of paranoia stirred by legitimate, unabated fear and anger.
At its heart, Masked is a story of family and blood. And it deftly toes the line between political commentary and emotionally charged drama. Truth is, the setting could be anywhere, during any war or violent struggle in human history. But the rawness of the subject matter brings home the richness of this particular story, and director Joseph Adler gets his actors to hit the right notes at every turn. Masked is as performance-driven as any recent local production, and the fine acting lends weight to an intense script that delves into some divisive machinations.
When the Israeli-born Hatsor wrote this play, he was looking to present a story in which both sides received equal reflection and in which family was at the heart of the tale. In the end, the explosive revelations and shocking twists find resolution in complex issues that have no easy answers.