Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

On The Grill
Dobama Theatre
Review by Mark Horning


Andrew Gombas, Arif Silverman, Dorothy Silver,
and David Vegh

Photo by Steve Wagner
The houselights go down, followed by a single spot on a standing Dorothy Silver, as Gizela, who quietly tells the story of how she made it to Israel in 1947 "on a one-masted ship full of hundreds of illegals from France." With moist eyes she reminisces about "seeing the lights of Nahariya glistening on the horizon like diamonds in the night" as she cried and blew kisses to the heavens to her murdered mother, father, sisters and brother. As small boats ferried the Jews to "the promised land" in spite of the British blockade, she remembered being greeted on shore with, "You are home. You have arrived in the land of Israel."

This short segment alone is worth the price of the ticket to see the Dobama Theatre production of Dror Keren's On the Grill.

It is Independence Day in Israel and Zvika (David Vegh) and his wife Rochale (Juliette Regnier) are hosting a cookout in their kibbutz home's backyard for friends and family. The patio area is decorated with streamers of Israeli flags. Unlike your typical American barbeque with fireworks, the sounds of explosions in the distance are real, as Israel has its troops once again poised on the border ready to defend their right to exist. The couple's prodigal son Mordi (Andrew Gombas) has returned from Germany with new girlfriend Johanna (Emily Viancourt) in tow. Mordi served in the army and still suffers from PTSD and after taking a borrowed sedative from his mother, further takes himself down with some smuggled scotch.

Gizela's caretaker Raja (Arif Silverman) is highly protective of his wheelchair-bound charge, even though he has only been caring for her for a few months. He is eventually joined by neighbor Avinoam (Michael Regnier), his daughter Alona (Olivia Scicolone), who is Mordi's ex-girlfriend (now a divorced single mother), and family friend Tirtza (Rocky Encalada), whose son Gilad (Nicholas Chokan) is a front line Israeli army volunteer and son of a deceased war hero. Gilad manages to wrangle a few hours of leave to visit the party.

Sparks begin to fly when Mordi starts hitting the scotch with enthusiasm and asks, "Why?" "Why do Israelis continue to eke out an existence in a barren land that is constantly under attack?" His words are punctuated with the sounds of jets and helicopters flying over and the reverberating sounds of explosions in the distance. Yet the older members of the family realize that "their Israel" is a modern democracy where the desert has been reclaimed to grow food and who leads the world in health and scientific discoveries as well as being a haven for all Jews who "wish to go home." Thus there is conflict within the household.

The cast is so authentic and compelling that audience members feel more like neighbors peering over the fence at the going-ons. The grand dame of Cleveland theater, Dorothy Silver, is masterful as always with her spot on interpretation of Gizela. Each line and movement is carefully thought out. David Vegh as Zvika is matched perfectly with Juliette Regnier as his wife Rochale as they banter away like old married couples know how to do.

Andrew Gombas as Mordi is super-charged as he tries to hold back his true feelings but loses control when the alcohol takes over. Arif Silverman is Raja, a mysterious foreigner from Sri Lanka who is passionate about his health care calling. Emily Viancourt as Johanna has the perfect accent and deer in headlights look when the conflicts begin and convincingly bonds with grandma Gizela. Rocky Encalada as Tirtza is a ticking time bomb waiting for the next phone call or visit from army personnel as her son is in the line of fire.

Nicholas Chokan does a superb job as Gilad, who is grabbing as much life, food and beer as he can as he is propelled into battle. Olivia Scicolone takes the minor role of Alona and expands it on shear will power. She is the divorced single mother, estranged daughter, former girlfriend, lover, and hapless bystander all rolled into one. Michael Regnier plays the role of Avinoam like the odd uncle who always manages to blurt out the wrong thing at the most inappropriate time.

One of the true stars of the show is Jeremy Dobbins' sound design. Jets and helicopters scream overhead in full Dolby style sound. Marcus Dana has come up with a superb lighting design that sets the afternoon and evening mood. Props designer Yesenia Real-Rivera has a "functioning" grill complete with red burning coals and smoke over which Zvika slaves for most of the show. The cast is smartly directed by Leighann Delorenzo.

The only criticism I have for the play is the wish for more character development. We get so wrapped up in the action that more background information on the various persons and their motivations would be helpful.

While a safe play as far as adult language is concerned, the intensity might be too much for young children.

What happens when the sacrifices of the parents becomes too much of a challenge for the children to bear and continue? What begins as a festive celebration quickly turns into a microcosm of modern life in Israel as two generations argue about their collective futures. On The Grill is spellbinding, gripping and emotional.

On The Grill, through July 8, 2018, at The Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights OH. Tickets may be purchased online at www.dobama.org or by phone by calling 216-932-3396.


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