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The Murder Of Isaac

I do not want to delude any of you. I promise you peace, but it is not an absolute peace. It is not an eternal peace. But even if this peace is partial, even if it is flimsy, it will save us a lot of bloodshed and tears... I opened the paper this morning and on the front page I saw the smiling faces of young soldiers. They're not smiling any more. Their bodies buried in the ground have begun to rot. Only those who have seen rotting bodies know what a horrific sight it is. You take your comrade's hand and it falls to pieces in yours... And the busy maggots hurry to find another piece of meat... And the gaping eyes are empty... What really justifies such death? What is so much bigger than our life that's worth dying for like this? -- Isaac Binder

Olek Krupa, David Margulies, and Lise Bruneau
O. Krupa, D. Margulies, and L. Bruneau

CENTERSTAGE has unveiled the American premiere of Motti Lerner's The Murder of Isaac -- an intensely hard-hitting look at religious fanaticism, patriotism, and racism as portrayed through the shattered lives of a nation's citizens. This is an in-your-face production that is emotional and intense in its unblinking look at the myriad forces that shape a culture's response to the process of creating peace.

Set in 1998 at an Israeli rehabilitation center for victims of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the residents try to make sense of their own inner pain, the violence manifesting within their country and of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, three years earlier by a law student intent on disrupting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. As the action on stage unfolds you see how the weight of each citizen's individual past collects to form the weight of a nation's history. It's this individual history which ultimately creates the political course that countries follow.

Mr. Lerner's play is a dialogue-focused work that requires attention, an open mind and a commitment to seeing it through to the end -- much like the peace process which is being brokered and debated on stage. It's quite something to watch, although not for audience members who do not want to be challenged or pushed to look at their own inner prejudices and preconceived ideas.

Director Irene Lewis, with her team of designers and actors, has once again taken on a difficult piece and created a tidal wave of emotion that washes over the audience. The recreation room set (designed by Christopher Barreca) morphs into a war-torn country where violence has become a way of life. The bare brick wall behind the set is plastered with photos of victims of violence. A simple way of highlighting how peace is not just a process of negotiation, but also a mindset that a population must allow to grow within themselves.

As Mimi Jordan Sherin's lighting utilizes chartreuse overtones along with flooding the audience in white light, the characters onstage show the depths of their trauma and rage thus revealing the emotional levels that peace must break through before it can flourish.

The fourteen member ensemble is excellent, each adding to the depth of the piece. David Margulies as Isaac Binder is the lone voice for choosing peace. Within the center's play about the assassination, he takes on the role of Prime Minister Rabin. Mia Dillon as Lola, a woman whose sons have both been killed in the wars, is a center volunteer overseeing the play's production.

As residents, Lise Bruneau is a woman whose children and husband were murdered by a terrorist, Joe Zaloom a blind veteran, Charlotte Cohn a young woman who is disfigured by a suicide bomber, Olek Krupa as Yuda the voice of the opposition, and Tzahi Moscovitz as a soldier suffering from psychosomatic paralysis. Also included in the cast are: Kelli Danaker, Daniel Feyer, Dan Manning, Chaz Mena, Benjamin Pelteson, Jeffrey Ware, and Gordon Joseph Weiss.

Mr. Lerner's play is definitely not "easy theatre," the action on stage happens very swiftly and at times there are simultaneous scenarios occurring. However, as a microcosm of the greater whole of society it serves as a kind of lab experiment. The next step is to take what he has shown us in the lab and apply it to our own lives -- individually and collectively -- in our own daily choices about violence, peace and the unsettling world between the two.

The Murder Of Isaac
by Motti Lerner, Translated by Anthony Berris
Directed by Irene Lewis
with Lise Bruneau, Charlotte Cohn, Kelli Danaker, Mia Dillon, Daniel Feyer, Olek Krupa, Dan Manning, David Margulies, Chaz Mena, Tzahi Moscovitz, Benjamin Pelteson, Jeffrey Ware, Gordon Joseph Weiss, Joe Zaloom
Composer/Musical Director: Eric Svejcar
Scenic Design: Christopher Barreca
Costume Design: Candice Donnelly
Lighting Design: Mimi Jordan Sherin
Sound Design: David Budries
Choreographer: Kenneth Lee Roberson
Fight Director: J. Allen Suddeth
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with 1 intermission
CENTERSTAGE, 700 North Calvert Street, Baltimore
Telephone: 410-332-0033
TUE - SAT @8, SAT - SUN @2, SUN @7:30; $10 - $60
Opening 02/3/06, closing 03/12/06
Reviewed by Rich See based on 02/18/06 performance
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© 2006  Elyse Sommer.