By: T. E. McMorrow
“Land of Fire/Tierra del Fuego” opened Sunday at the Theater for the New City in the East Village. “Land of Fire” is an extremely serious, politically thought-provoking, and timely play. The play is agitprop, but this production by the New Yiddish Rep manages to avoid, for the most part, the hazards of such works.
How timely is “Land of Fire?” The show opens with the sounds of chaos and gunshots in a European city, during a terrorist attack.
How serious? There is not a single laugh in the first act of this drama, written by Argentinian journalist and playwright Mario Diament, and translated into English by his wife, author Simone Zarmadi Diament.
Based on real events, and set 22 years after a 1978 terrorist attack in London by two young men recruited by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, “Land of Fire” follows one of the Israeli victims of that attack, Yael Alon, played by Dagmar Stansova, as she searches to understand what has happened to her and her country. Yael, 22 years old at the time of the attack, was a stewardess with Al El Airlines. Sitting in her uniform on an Al El bus, she watched in terror in 1978 as one of the attackers, Hassan el-Fawzi, played by Mihran Shlougian, aimed a gun at her and her best friend, Nirit, sitting in the next seat. Nirit died, we learn, while Yael lived.
Tortured by that memory, she seeks catharsis by contacting Hassan, who is serving a life sentence in prison. The play opens there. Hassan has agreed to meet with Yael. Neither knows what to expect.
The simple, well designed set by Mark Marcante, along with the equally pithy light design by Alexander Bartenieff, allows us to flash back to the months before the meeting, then return to prison.
As she pushes forward in her quest for understanding, her marriage disintegrates, and she is rejected by many around her. Ms. Stansova, who is onstage throughout the entire play, does an excellent job handling what could be, in the wrong hands, simply overwrought material.
“Twenty-two years ago, you tried to kill me,” she says to her attacker when they first meet. “I was trying to kill what you represented,” he responds.
As I said, there is not a laugh in the first act. In the second act here are three distinct moments where the audience can laugh, and, essentially, exhale. That need to exhale was palpable during the Friday ‘preview performance I attended. One of those moments is quite telling.
We learn that Hassan and his comrade, who died during the attack when a hand grenade accidentally went off in his hands, delayed their action, in order to watch the World Cup championship game between Holland and Argentina in a pub in Piccadilly Circus. The game has gone into overtime. “Khalib didn’t want to leave,” Hassan says. Yael is incredulous when she hears this, but Hassan explains that that is how life works. “Kempes!” he says with relish, as he recalls the name of the Argentinian player who was the star of game. Once ended, the attack began.
Mr. Shlougian gives us a very believable Hassan. We are never certain, nor is Yael, whether or not he truly is the changed man he says he is.
Moshe Yassur has done an excellent job directing this production. Some of the cast might be light in experience, but it is a talented group.
You won’t leave the theater on 1st Avenue humming a holiday song, but you will be asking questions, which clearly is Mr. Diament’s intent.
“Land of Fire/Tiera Del Fuego” ***
Theater for the New City at 155 First Avenue.
The play has one intermission and runs for a bit under two hours.
Tickets are $18, with seniors and students paying $15. There are performances scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 26 & 27 at 3 PM & 8 p.m., and Wednesday, Dec. 30 through Sunday, Jan. 3 at 8 p.m., with additional matinee performances Jan. 2 and 3 at 3 p.m.
Photos: Ronald L. Glassman
FOLLOW US ON FACEBOOK AND TWITTER