Review by Brittany Crowell
‘Grey Rock,’ the new play from Palestine’s leading playwright, Amir Nizar Zuabi, explores the import of imagination and dreaming big during times of oppression. Returning to NYC in The Public’s Under the Radar Festival, after having its premiere at LaMama in January of 2019, Zuabi’s charming and poignant new piece is one hundred percent heart and dream, encapsulating its hero’s sentiment that “Reality is only part of the truth. It’s the way we explain things, not the way we feel them.”
Set in today’s occupied West Bank, the piece follows a Palestinian TV-repair-man who leaves his reality behind after the loss of his late wife and sets his sights and his aspirations on building a rocket to reach the moon. As those around him reach out with concern, ridicule, and many questions, he remains determined to prove that dreams are not only for those who live free, but for all who are willing to reach for the stars.
‘Grey Rock’ is simultaneously inspirational and heartbreaking. We watch Yusuf and those who love him grow in hope, fighting against the oppression of the occupation through the power of one man’s dream and his determination to let nothing stand in his way. The piece often examines the differences between the American newness and freedom to the old and troubled land of the West Bank, providing a close-to-home context for the New York audiences whose audible intakes and sighs were heard throughout the performance at The Public. Amir Nizar Zuabi’s words are poetic rally cries that are summoning a need for change not only in politics, but in empathy and in the expanse of our capacity for dreaming.
The cast was strongly led by Khalifa Natour and Fidaa Zidan who brought humor and passion to Yusuf and Lila as they fought to reconcile their losses and differing styles of occupation resistance. Ivan Azazian was a charming though awkward Facel, Motaz Malhees was an incredibly enthusiastic Sheik, and Alaa Shehada’s Jawad was all brute weight and calculations.
Zuabi’s words are his strength and the text continued to shine and charm, even as the performers worked through the many awkward moments of unnatural and over-choreographed staging. Tal Yarden’s multi-functional set and projection design helped to give additional depth to the small and simple stage, using shadow-play, light (by designer Muaz Jubeh) and projection to both transform the space and transport the audience.
Grey Rock continues at The Public throughout the Under The Radar festival this month and is a piece I would recommend for anyone feeling uninspired, beaten down, or in need of a reminder of the power of dreaming.
GREY ROCK – written and directed by Amir Nizar Zuabi
WITH: Ivan Azazian (Fadel); Motaz Malhees (Sheik); Khalifa Natour (Yusuf); Alaa Shehada (Jawad); Fidaa Zidan (Lila)
Set and projections by Tal Yarden; lighting by Muaz Jubeh; sound by Katie Down; produced by Alexandra Aron and Remote Theater Project; co-produced by Bonnie Sue Stein and GOH Productions. At The Public’s Under the Radar Festival: Oskar Eustis, artistic director; Mark Russell, director Under The Radar festival. publictheater.org/programs/under-the-radar/. Through Jan 19. 90 minutes.