By Michele Markarian
Days of Atonement. Written by Hanna Azoulay-Hasfari, translated by Shir Freibach. Directed by Guy Ben-Aharon. Presented by Review,, 527 Tremont Street, Boston through June 25.
It is the eve of Yom Kippur. Amira (Dana Stern), a student filmmaker, calls her three estranged sisters to their mother’s apartment in Netivot, to try and locate their elderly Moroccan/Israeli mother, who has disappeared without a note. Malka (Jackie Davis) the oldest sister, is in her own state of perpetual crisis, convinced that her husband David is cheating on her. Evelyn (Adrianne Krstansky), the second oldest, is deeply Orthodox. Pregnant again, in an advanced age and already with eight daughters, she refuses to have an abortion, even though her doctor is recommending it – Evelyn has diabetes. Fanny (Ramona Lisa Alexander), whom Malka suspects has slept with David, had been thrown out of the house as a teenager, her mother jealous of her developing body. Although a successful realtor, Fanny still has emotional wounds that make her reunion difficult and bitter. Amira, the youngest, born after their father has died, is suffering from mental health issues. Each sister feels like she had it the worst growing up. It’s a play fraught with tension, resentment and, appropriately set on Yom Kippur, forgiveness and repentance.
Old dynamics are hard to break. Malka’s paranoia over David mirrors her Moroccan born mother’s with her father. Fanny’s promiscuity could be a result of sexual abuse by her father – all we know is that she slept in her parents’ bed as a teen and her father was always touching her. Evelyn’s religiousness is a substitute from her real desire, which was to be an actress. Only Amira’s breakdown remains a mystery, at least to this viewer. But religion also has a chokehold on this family – Malka’s insistence on being a traditional wife, Evelyn’s determination to fast when she’s pregnant and diabetic, Fanny’s refusal to take a phone call that, as she says, could change her life, because one can’t answer the phone on Yom Kippur. Evelyn’s unwillingness to abort is infuriating; her cheerfulness at facing a vastly diminished lifetime with nine mouths to feed makes you wish someone would drug her and drag her off to a clinic. Such are the bonds of her faith.
All four actresses are strong, although there is an awful lot of yelling in this piece that after awhile, diminishes the intention as to what is being said. Jackie Davis brings a put-upon earthiness to Malka – is there anything this actress can’t do? – that really grounds the play. Adrianne Krstansky gives a layered performance as the Orthodox Evelyn, showing us glimpses of the real woman behind the religious façade she’s created. Ramona Lisa Alexander has glorious presence as Fanny. When she’s happy, the stage is alighted; when she’s slinging zingers at her sisters, we want to hide from her meanness. Dana Stern captures the vulnerability and admiration of the youngest sister, who just wants the people she loves to get along.
This stripped down production is very appealing – no set to speak of, other than a few low benches. The props are mimed. This allows us to focus on the energies between the sisters and how they relate to each other. That said, I would someday like to see a more elaborately staged production, to match the realism of the dialogue.
Their mother, it turns out, has left a video message on Amira’s camera, which can’t be listened to until the end of the play, when Yom Kippur is over. I won’t tell you where she went, but it has something to do with sisterly bonds. When all is said and down, and the sisters go back to their regular lives, I have the feeling that they’ll continue their resentments where they put them down. But for this day, the Day of Atonement, all is well with each other and the world. For more info, go to: http://www.israelistage.com/event/daysofatonement/