New York

Grey Rock – The Public Theater, New York City

Reviewer: Robert Price

Writer & Director: Amir Nizar Zuabi

Amir Nizar Zuabi’s Grey Rock follows a recognizable path: One man’s obsessive pursuit becomes a community’s rallying cry. None of the obstacles are insurmountable for protagonist Yusuf (Khalifa Natour). He has an infectious ambition and a diligent work ethic. Natour’s tone is musically reassuring unless he must keep others in line.  As every character seems to question Yusuf’s motives for building a rocketship in the West Bank, one wonders if constructing a work of theatre would be greeted with a similar skepticism.

Zuabi’s play represents many viewpoints through these characters. Yusuf’s daughter Lila (Fidaa Zaidan) and a delivery person, Fadel (Ivan Kevork Azazian) are both over-educated and under-employed. Lila’s fiancé Jawaad (Alaa Shehada) is mostly concerned with his family’s reputation, as well as the tangible material goal of obtaining a furniture set made from real Italian leather. The text is crystal-clear in its intent, but unfortunately the dialogue is sometimes acoustically swallowed in the performance space.

Tal Yarden’s set divides the playing space front-to-back with a curtain of translucent plastic flaps. This barrier leaves a large portion of the stage undiscovered and forces some intimate scenes into a featureless foreground. Zaidan and Shehada, betrothed in this vaudevillian limbo, circle about each other to demonstrate their superficial engagement. This is contrasted with Fadel’s habit of nearly bumping into Lila, telegraphing the attraction between them. Yusuf refers to this as gravity; one of a few metaphors fashioned from Physics in the production. Projections and silhouettes illuminate the false wall, imaginatively executed by lighting designer Muaz Jubeh. There is even a dream sequence visit from Yusuf’s deceased wife, underscored with Katie Down’s sound design. It is this distant rumbling that grows closer under Lila’s storytelling, bringing the piece to cathartic climax around precisely what is left unsaid.

Like the rocketship around which it is centered, this play takes some inspiration from American Exceptionalism. Yusuf’s plea is for global unity, and it is his humility that allows him to connect across the world.

Runs until: 19 January 2020 

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