This is Not a Conversation
Review by Chloë Mumford – Showbill.ca contributor
March 15, 2017
This is Not a Conversation provides a striking narrative on conflict, activism, kinship and suffering. It’s a shining addition to the Belfry Theatre’s 2017 Spark Festival.
The play manages to bring the audience on an emotional journey with a simple set, and a cast of two expertly portraying the very real experiences of individuals facing the long standing Israel/Palestine conflict. Actors and creators Dima Alansari and Itai Erdal both bring unique perspectives to the stage. Dima, a Palestinian dealing with the displacement and violence experienced by herself and her ancestors, and Itai, a former Israeli soldier grappling between guilt and attempted justification for his military service. They unite to bring the conflict of two individuals in order to represent a decades old struggle.
Staged fairly minimalistically, with a chair and two suitcases as props, Dima and Itai rely heavily on physical theatre to demonstrate lived experiences of violence, family history, and specific interactions between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers. Recurring sets of surreal bursts of physicality at first feel disjointed, but with repetition and eventual narration, begin to mimic the process of memory.
A narrative is formed that honours the task of two new friends attempting to understand one another, paired with hard hitting conversation between Dima and Itai on their vastly different experiences in the Middle East. Though at times fourth wall breaks seem forced, discussing the process of bringing a show about such a complex conflict to the Canadian stage truly provides insight into the creators motivations, noting the complexities of activism through art.
Lighting and sound design also lend greatly to painting the picture of everlasting conflict. Soft lighting paired with shadow, transforming into the bright light found on a sweltering day evokes emotions of claustrophobia, both in the context of a restricted room and that of living without place in a land of surveillance and the threat of impending violence. Sounds of shouts, bustling and chirping birds add to the immersiveness of the show.
Staged in the Belfry’s Studio A round, the audience is placed in close proximity to the two actors, evoking a slight comparison to a stadium showdown. The disjointed structure of the show is jarring at first, but later begins to mimic the confusion of displacement, a sophisticated move on the part of the writing team.
Alansari and Erdal seize every opportunity to demonstrate the complexity of humanity in the face of conflict through exceptional acting. The result is an invaluable narrative on facets of occupation often missed by news reports and editorials. Itai represents both the lies spun to justify the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the excuses used to avoid facing a history of genocide by sharing personal stories of his military service. Even more complex is Itai’s relationship with his former home in Israel, noting the struggle in being complicit towards Israeli occupation.
Dima, in contrast, serves as a challenge to Itai, speaking to her family history as a means of contextualizing the inter-generational traumas of the occupation. Comparisons are drawn between the Israeli occupation and Canada’s history of colonization and genocide of Indigenous peoples, providing revelatory commentary on racism and nationalist notions of land ownership. By laying out the conflict in terms of Zionism, nationalism and colonization, the arguments between the two serve as an explanation necessary to understanding the effects of state-sanctioned violence.
At it’s core, This is Not a Conversation attempts to humanize a conflict that is seemingly insurmountable in its ability to displace and harm innocent people. The show’s approach pulls no punches, challenging the audience to extend the restrictions of empathy and emotion. Striking a balance between matter of fact discussion between friends and highly artistic physical theatre, an audience member can expect to be fully engrossed in this thought-provoking piece.
The Bottom Line
This is Not a Conversation fully exemplifies the complexity of conflict, providing a lasting commentary on Israel and Palestine that is unapologetic and subtly emphatic.
This is Not a Conversation
The Belfry Theatre, Studio A. March 14th-18th