By Paulanne Simmons
At the beginning of The Band’s Visit, Dina (Katrina Lenk), the proprietor
of a cafe in a small Israeli town called Bet Hatikvah, tells the audience, “Once
not long ago group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t
hear about it. It wasn’t very important.” She repeats the statement at the end.
But by that time, everyone realizes the band’s visit was indeed of great
importance to that little, sleepy town.
Katrina Lenk, Tony Shalhoub
The Band’s Visit is a new musical with music and lyrics lyrics by David Yazbek and a book by Itamar Moses, based on a film by Eran Kolirin. Despite its shift from screen to stage, the story remains solid – funny and moving in all the right spots. What’s more, director David Cromer, working with scenic designer Scott Pask (who has made clever use of a revolving set) and lighting designer Tyler Micoleau, has kept much of the fluidity of
When the Egyptian band mistakenly arrives at Bet Hatikvah (their real destination is
the much more cosmopolitan Petah Tikvah), they find the town filled with
unhappy and incomplete people. Dina has had a string of unhappy love affairs.
Itzik ((John Cariani), a cafe regular, has a carping, discontented wife, an
infant child and no job. Papi (Daniel David Stewart) panics at the thought of
intimacy with a woman.
Each of these people is “adopted” by some member of the band. Tewfiq (Tony
Shalhoub), commander of the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, allowing
Dina to usher him around the city, reassures her she is a good woman. Simon
(Alok Tewari), the clarinetist, reminds Itzik that it’s not too late for him to
take charge of his life. Haled (Ari’el Stachel), who is in the habit of telling
women they have beautiful eyes, counsels Papi on how to approach a woman.
The Israelis, in their own way, also manage to help their visitors heal. Dina eases
some of the pain Tewfiq is carrying. Simon is inspired to work on his
unfinished clarinet concerto.
Yazbek’s score reflects a middle eastern motif, but it is not always particularly
compelling. His lyrics can have an aching dignity (“Look at those hands, those
are not young hands/But they move like they are swimming through the music”).
But they can also be trite (“Time’s like a river, sometimes”).
Somehow the cast makes everything work, even the not so wonderful lyrics. Shalhoub and Lenk are particularly heaatbreaking as a mismatched but infinitely sweet and
Best of all, The Band’s Visit relies on a premise we cannot get too much of
these days: human beings are perfectly capable of relating to one another, no
matter what their ethnic backgrounds.
The Band’s Visit is at Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20
St., through Dec. 23, www.atlantictheater.org. Photo: Ahron R. Foster