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Masked

Theatre Reviews by Matthew Murray

Masked
Arian Moayed, Sanjit DeSilva, and Daoud Heidami
Photo by Aaron Epstein.

When a butcher shop is the setting, it's a sure bet that raw meat is on the menu. Sure enough, it's not long before the three brothers at the turbulent center of Ilan Hatsor's play Masked, which just opened at the DR2 Theatre, are ripping into each other as might wolves or vultures attacking a choice slab of recently killed animal. Which group is less deadly could well be open to debate.

What is more sure is that Hatsor's play, which was originally written 17 years ago in the middle of the First Intifada, the Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule in the West Bank-Gaza region, is at least as relevant today as it was in 1990. With the militant Sunni organization Hamas elected as the Palestinian government last year, and with questions of who owns what, who belongs where, and who's doing anyone else any good never far from most American's minds or their news sources, the time is always right for a play like this one.

Whether this is the specific play we need is another issue. Though Masked is one of the defining titles of contemporary Israeli theatre, and has been successfully produced in over 100 different countries, its most stirring aspect doesn't arise from the script. Its story about Intifada aggressors, sympathizers, and the impossibility of telling them apart is told from the Palestinian point of view, though Hatsor himself is Israeli.

So it's no surprise that the characters in this classic conflict triangle are so respectfully drawn, with middle brother Na'im (Arian Moayed), oldest brother Daoud (Daoud Heidami), and youngest brother Khalid (Sanjit DeSilva) all occupying articulately argued positions along the spectrum of opinion toward the Israeli occupation. In brief, Na'im is against it, Daoud is for it, and Khalid hasn't quite made up his mind, though things are seldom that clear-cut where brothers are concerned, especially when truthfulness and trust don't run in the family.

The treatment is so even-handed, however, that the play never finds any real traction in the brothers' friction, and can't keep all the obligatory secrets compelling until it's time for them to be officially revealed. Much of watching the play is a waiting game: for Na'im's complicity in certain devastating events to emerge, for Daoud to reveal his true allegiances, and for Khalid's loyalty to settle not on either extreme but rather in the more sensible middle.
Masked
Arian Moayed, Sanjit DeSilva, and Daoud Heidami
Photo by Aaron Epstein.

That there aren't more surprises here is only a problem because Masked asks us to consider a somewhat unfamiliar viewpoint without saying much of anything new about it. It might be a result of Michael Taub's translation, which imparts a stilted quality to the dialogue that keeps the men from ever sounding like blood relatives; Ami Dayan's direction is also functional at best, hardly keeping the fires of suspicion and distrust burning at full blaze throughout. Only the claustrophobic abattoir set from Wilson Chin and Alexandra Maslik magnifies events, acting as though it were a spiritual and political echo chamber.

Moayed has a subtle but fierce renegade energy that boosts his portrayal, and brings to Na'im a smoldering sense of injustice that convinces you this is a man who will go to any length and sacrifice anything to get what he believes in. Neither Heidami nor DeSilva matches him in terms of intensity: DeSilva reads far too old and wise for the indecisive Khalid, and Heidami's moping carriage and lugubrious manner prevent him from seeing a fit adversary for the on-point Na'im.

This unbalances the production even more, never allowing it to feel like a potential stalemate between equally powerful forces we must believe it is. This makes it harder for the talk and the rancor to resolve into anything meaningful, leaving the play to feel at its best like a drunken family reunion spiraling even further out of control. It's possible that living your life steeped in strife helps invest Masked with additional urgency, but a play shouldn't need destruction just outside to catapult you into its world of uncertainty and doubt.

A single door serves as the lone portal into the brothers' world, and its openings, closings, lockings, and reverberating vibrations from frantic knocking should leave you quaking with anticipation of what's coming up next. By the time you're expected to care what's hiding behind it, it's too late for the suspense to build, or for the pseudo-enigmas of Masked to reveal themselves as anything other than twists stuck in a story that might better be told straight.


Masked
DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street at 20 Union Square East
Running Time: 85 minutes, with no intermission
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge