We Can All Just Get Along After All
By Lauren Yarger
What happens when you mix some lost Egyptian musicians with some Israeli residents bored with life in the dessert? With Director David Cromer as the chef, you get a recipe for a satisfying slice of life in the world premiere of David Yazbek's The Bank Visit Off-Broadway at Atlantic Theater Company.
With a book by Itamar Moses, based Erin Kolirin's screenplay for the film by the same name, and music and lyrics by Yazbek, The Band's Visit transports us to another world, yet tells a warm, refreshingly human story that feel close to home.
Tony Shalhoub stars as conductor Tewfiq, who in 1996 has traveled with Eygpt's police band to play at a dedication ceremony for the new Arab Cultural Affairs Center. A mix up in the name of their destination lands the band in the middle of nowhere -- Bet Hatikva -- instead of the city of Petah Tikva.
Residents of the town welcome the travelers -- after all, this is the most exciting thing that has happened around there in a while -- share food at the local cafe owned by made-hard-by-life Dina (Katarina Lenk) and offer the men places to sleep in their homes until they can catch the right bus to their destination the next morning.
It's amazing what can happen in one night. Tewfiq and Haled (Ari'el Stachel), who is responsible for the mixup, stay with Dina. Others stay with new father Itzak (John Cariani), whose wife is about to leave him, and in the restaurant itself. Dina decides to be spontaneous and takes Tewfiq out to show him the sites -- as they are -- and others head out on a roller skating date. The evening is magical with regrets and confidences being shared and unexpected friendships taking root. And could Dina be feeling something more than friendship with her shy, widowed companion?
The action, expertly directed by Cromer who works his usual magic, takes place on Scott Pask's bleak set -- as colorless as the lives of the people living there. A revolving moves the story from place to place partnered with subtle lighting shifts designed by Tyler Micoleau. Choreography by Patrick McCollum and movement by Lee Sher assist. .
The plot unfolds in songs full of emotion, yearning and heartfelt desires. One character, identified only as Telephone Guy, waits expectantly by a pay phone, frozen in time as he awaits a call form his girlfriend. The longing and need in his soul is visible. We don't know why he thinks she is going to call, or whether there is any chance she might, be we sure hope she will.
A nice touch is that, despite our expectations, politics really isn't a factor. How refreshing to think that people can come together and find kindness and generosity despite differences in politics.
The band members are just in name only. The actors actually play instruments -- sometimes as accompaniment, sometimes as part of the visit -- and later, a small concert delights the audience. Music Director Andrea Grody goes for raw feeling rather than perfect pitch and the effect sharpens the songs as part of storytelling rather than performance. The cast also features George Abud, Bill Army Erik Liberman, Andrew Polk, Rachel Prather. Jonathan Raviv, Sharone Sayegh, Kristen Sieh, Daniel David Stewart and Alok Tewari.
I didn't want the visit to end. "Monk" fans, this character won't remind you of your favorite TV detective, but you will want to see Shalhoub shine in this heartwarming, magical musical.
The Band's Visit plays through Jan. 1 at Atlantic Theater Company's Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20 St., NYC. Performance times vary. Tickets are $90: atlantictheater.org/playevents/thebandsvisit; 866-811-4111.
Sound Design, Clive Goodwin; Projections content design, Maya Cirrocchi; Projections system design, Five OHM; Hair and Wig Design, Charles La Pointe
Language and Dialect Coach, Mouna R'miki.
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