One-man show highlights multicultural tensions

Considering the magnitude the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has assumed, sifting through layers of politics in search of the truth can prove incredibly difficult.

Photo of Ibraim Miari in his play In Between
Ibrahim Miari shows off a gas mask, one of the props used in his show performed Friday at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance.

But when teacher and actor Ibrahim Miari performed his autobiographical piece, In Between, on Friday at the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance, he achieved just that. With exceptional grace and humility, Miari took the stage of the Adams Memorial Theatre and illustrated through a retelling of the events of his own life how this momentous clash of cultures has not only monopolized the attention of the media, but has also immensely altered and threatened the livelihoods of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

Born in the historically mixed city of Acre, Israel, to a Jewish mother and a Muslim father, Miari was destined to a life ripe with struggles and contradictions, of which he gives us a very intimate look during the course of this long yet dynamic monologue. Miari employed only a limited set of props, consisting of a drum, a chair and a suitcase full of odds and ends.  Additionally, he made very smart use of the various parts of the stage, constructing a number of very discrete, well-defined compartments within which he performs; these sections provide the setting for his expansive story and lent a tangible sense of space and time.

The scene anchoring the entire narrative is one that takes place in an airport: Miari, on his way to the United States, is stopped and searched upon departure from his native country by an inquisitive security officer. Through his thorough questioning, the aggressive, overzealous agent prompts flashbacks; as a result, Miari investigates and interrogates his past, the collection of events that have brought him here.

Early on, we are made to understand that beneath its personal, impassioned socio-political commentary, the play constructs an earnest, touching love story: Miari meets a young, American Jewish girl, and the nature of their predicament saturates their relationship with tension and obstacles. Naturally, Miari’s distance from Judaism and the couple’s refusal to raise their potential children in the faith of his mother makes a wedding performed by a rabbi impossible; attempts made with an imam and even a Buddhist lama are met with similar failure. In short, it seems at first that there is no room within the confines and traditions of their respective cultures for their love. Fear not, however, for the Miaris end up overcoming their predicament and getting married, an ending made that more poignant by the fact that it actually happened.

Of course, Miari scrutinizes the impact of his upbringing in some detail, as he investigates the facets of his childhood which have led to his unique identity crisis. As a child, he starts off as young Avram, being taught at the local Hebrew school. However, his father quickly arranges for him to be sent to the school for the Arab children, where he discovers another facet of his character as Ibrahim the Palestinian. The lesson here is a straightforward one: The consequences of political divides manifest themselves most markedly in the lives of those who exist on the boundaries of the conflicts in question.

In addition to his fascinating story, Miari enriched the show with displays of his numerous other talents, which include his mastery of traditional Sufi dancing and beautiful singing in both Hebrew and Arabic. In his own words, the ceaseless whirling of his dance embodies his passions, the goals he seeks to achieve in life. And, true to the themes of the piece, it is a dance which is nonetheless interrupted by the constraints that society has placed on him because of his rather unique status. However, the more original and intimate part of the performance came at the end; once the story was over and the final applause had died down, the creator of the piece quite humbly dragged his chair to the front of the stage and answered the questions of his audience. Beyond congratulating him over his striking recital, many audience members were eager to ask about Miari’s personal life and find out how he was able to exhibit it so directly on the stage. True to the intent of his play, he steered clear of any political statement, insisting instead that he attempts to capture the conflict as it manifests itself on the microscopic level. He described everything from the anxiety brought on by air raids to the fights his parents had over celebrating Purim. In many ways, he filled in some of the gaps his monologue had left open. It was then that we found out that the wedding had finally happened, that he is still on speaking terms with his father and that he and his wife make things work by adopting an unusual religious mish-mash. Miari’s eloquence and irrestible good nature made it that much more spontaneous.

This stood as a testament to the most unique aspect of the presentation. As a display of an entirely personal story, the play was refreshing and surprising; it was a privilege to see one man captivate an audience for as long as he did using only himself as a performance, all the while enveloping us in the fabric of his life.