Compass Theatre, formerly 6th @ Penn, continues their Resilience of the Spirit Festival with a youth production of Glyn O’Malley’s Paradise – a look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the eyes of two teenage girls. It’s inspired by a true event that occurred when the lives of two seventeen-year-old girls crossed paths, an Israeli named Rachel Levy and a Palestinian named Ayat al-Akhrase. And, in this case, it’s directed by the seventeen-year-old director and founder of Broadway Kids of San Diego, Alice Cash.

In the play, Sarah is the Israeli girl who has recently moved back to Israel from America with her mother, Shoshana. They live in an Israeli settlement, Shoshana determined to claim their right to the land in the disputed territory, haunted by an encounter years before when a Palestinian had told her that they would push the Israelis into the sea. But Shoshana is also acutely aware of the increased danger that surrounds them, and is insistent that Sarah be careful. Sarah, meanwhile, is unhappy in her new life in Israel until she comes across a project she wants to do – a photo exhibit called Paradise featuring her photos with commentary by Palestinians, hoping to find common ground and a bridge to understanding.

Not far away, though living under starkly different circumstances, is Fatima. Her father works in the Israeli settlement, and many of her neighbors see her family as traitors. Her friend and cousin Omar, recently returned for a visit after moving to America, encourages her and her family to go with them to America so she can pursue her art. But her brother has fallen under the sway of the militant Bassam who sees violence as the way out of the impoverished Palestinian territories.

Charlotte Ostrow is Sarah, giving her a very real feel as she gets moody over her new life in Israel away from her friends, brightens when she finally has a project that inspires her, flirts with a soldier, and shares good mother-daughter friction and tenderness with her mom Shoshana (Dana Hooley, who jumped into the role over the final weeks, expertly portraying the woman worried for her daughter and for her people).

Fatima is played by Gabriela Espinal who gives an exceptional performance as the young woman who would like to pursue her dreams and play with Omar (Daniel Myers good as a concerned, likable, and in-love Omar), but the pressures of her world threaten to drive her to fear. And worse. Her emotions, from playfulness to fear to hatred, are palpable. The script itself has a weak point, when the prime motivating event is over a character we’ve never seen and scarcely heard about. But Gabriela’s reaction to the words from Bassam (Ryan Murphy as a creepy and more than slightly crazed militant) is riveting enough to make us believe her reaction is real, and that her life will never be the same.

Director Alice Cash has clearly focused on both sides of the two converging stories, giving us a good look at the justifiable fears and angers that can lead to such events – stories that teach us much more than the short glimpses we get on the evening news.

Performed July 31 - August 3, 2008

Rob Hopper
National Youth Theatre

~ Cast ~

Fatima: Gabriela Espinal
Sarah: Charlotte Ostrow
Bassam: Ryan Murphy
Omar: Daniel Myers
Shoshana: Dana Hooley

Director: Alice Cash
Stage Manager: Keegan Porter


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