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A CurtainUp DC Review
After the War
"My entire life I have played to save us from ourselves and from our enemies." —Joel, a world-renowned pianist, explaining his position on Israeli politics.
After the War
Paul Morello and Barbara Rappaport (Photo credit: Stan Barouh)
Conflict in many forms is the basis of Motti Lerner's After the War, a world premiere at Mosaic Theater. The playwright who is well-known, admired and reviled in his native Israel does not shy away from the many controversies faced by citizens of his complicated homeland and all Middle Easterners in the diaspora.

Joel, a world-renowned pianist, returns to his parents' home in Tel Aviv just after the Second Lebanon War in 2006, when Hezbollah lobbed Katyusha rockets across the Lebanese border into Israel. It's been 18 years since Joel has been in Israel, an absence that was prompted by disagreements with his father.

Based in New York, Joel's musical talent has taken him all over the world but, incongruously, not to Israel. A chance to play with the Israeli Philharmonic under the baton of Zubin Mehta no less and a chance to visit his son Izzy who has been serving in the Israel Defense Force prompt Joel to return to his native country. If he had been expecting a hero's welcome, he had a rude awakening.

Bella, Joel's mother and music teacher, doesn't speak to him. Freddie, his brother and arch-rival, vacillates between excoriating him and giving him a brotherly hug. But the greatest hurt is hostility from his son Izzy.

Joel's outspoken remarks about what he regarded as Israel's culpability in the Second Lebanon War received widespread attention and disdain among those closer to the fighting — for instance, his family. Looking inside the conflict from the Israeli side is very different from the moralists and critics such as Joel who view the situation from outside the country. The hardliners do not take well to the opinions of liberals.

Motti Lerner forcefully presents both sides of all the issues addressed. Joel (clearly a stand-in for the playwright) is sympathetic to the victims. His family and those around them,especially those who survived the Holocaust, disagree. As Bella, a refugee to Israel, says to Joel "You wouldn't make us hate this place, which is the only place we have. In your naivete, you've forgotten that we've already been in other places. You've forgotten what happened to us there."

Barbara Rappaport, an actress who is well-known and well-liked in Washington and who is equally adept at comedy as she is at tragedy, gives the best performance of her career. Her heartfelt Bella is at all times believable, - whether she is livid with Joel or proud of the fact that he performs with the Israel Philharmonic. Paul Morella, also a member in good standing of the cadre of Washington actors, is excellent as Joel. He has that New York vibe and an artist's assumption that talent tops everything else and empathy for the other side is not a crime.

Bella and Joel are supported by a cast that includes Michael Tolaydo as an annoying Mr. Fixit with a tendency to outstay his welcome. Tolaydo makes the most of his little bits of business which are most welcome as there are few laughs in After the War. James Whalen as Joel's brother Freddy is slick and Tonya Beckman as Trudy, every male character's would-be partner, is also fine. Guy Kapulnik who plays Izzy, has a background that is highly suited to the play. He has lived in the U.S. and Israel, where he served in the IDF during the 2006 war in Lebanon.

Eric Shimelonis is responsible for the splendid sound which includes some original compositions and some less original, such as beautiful melodies by Beethoven. Frida Shoham's set includes a simple apartment and in the background chairs and music stands. I could do without the rear screening of fighter planes.

Director Sinai Peter has drawn out of the script and its characters a truly thought-provoking experience. Where he fails though is in solving the problem created by the Mosaic's overly wide stage. Since it takes longer than it should for the actors to get on and off stage, the action and dialogue can feel delayed. But that's a small quibble.

After the War is very good. It deserves a wider audience.

After the War by Motti Lerner
Directed by Sinai Peter
Translated by Roy Isacowitz
Setting and Costumes by Frida Shoham
Lighting by Michael Lincoln
Original Composition and Sound by Eric Shimelonis
Cast: Barbara Rappaport (Bella); Paul Morella (Joel); Tonya Beckman (Trudy); James Whalen (Freddie); Michael Tolaydo (Bernard); Guy Kapulnik (Izzy).
Run time: 1 hour and 45 minutes, no intermission.
Mosaic Theater Company, at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H Street, NE, Washington, DC.; tickets are $40 to $60. March 24 to April 17, 2016.
Review by Susan Davidson based on March 28, 2016 performance.
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