Couples at War

Because the events of Yom Kippur are mostly confined to the living room of a young couple in Israel--a space whose clashing fabrics indicate both modesty and twenty-something carelessness--its coming-of-age themes about forgiveness, patriotic responsibility and death have the potential to appear especially hefty. Some of its most powerful moments take place when its four main characters cork a bottle of wine after returning from streets mauled by war, react to a blazing alarm or shield their fear of loneliness with raised chins and crossed arms. The play is framed around the Yom Kippur war of 1973, a conflict whose trickling political implications and impact on the collective consciousness of the Israeli can hardly be understated. Watching the play's four young characters become imprinted with the experience of war, an audience member can feel herself wanting Yom Kippur to live up to its stakes and expectations. It's thus a pity that, in the end, its story and writing feel too neatly packaged to make a distinctive impact.

Written by Meri Wallace, the play begins when two American married couples (Yitz, Yael, Ephraim and Sarah) prepare to observe the Jewish holiday in Israel. When a war against Egypt and Syria begins unexpectedly, Yitz is forced to leave pregnant Yael behind as he joins his fellow Israeli soldiers in combat. As Yael begins to raise her baby alone and awaits her husband's return, Ephraim and Sarah battle a distance of their own. Later, through a friendship with a local army captain and an unexpected visit from Yitz's estranged mother, Yael begins to vocalize an internal battle between her loyalty for Israel and her worry for her son's safety.

Wallace's script is heavily grounded in plot, and moves quickly from one scene to the next. Each exchange between characters ends with a definite fade to black, transitioning after some furniture shuffling into the following frame on the storyboard. The dialogue has the same deliberate quality: Her characters communicate in grammatically rounded phrases, many of which feel almost too familiar: "that certainly puts a new spin to the story," says a character after finding out the truth about his friend's love affair. "I was overwhelmed by your beauty," another says to profess his love. "Take this scarf. It will keep you warm," Yael says when Yitz departs for the war. Each bit of dialogue is closely edited, and never hazy in its meaning. When confrontations are expected, Wallace quickly cuts to the chase; in the first meeting between Yael and her neglectful mother-in-law, for example, the scene moves almost instantly from greetings to a full-blown verbal battle.

Arela Rivas does a fine job with the character of Yael, adding a complexity to her lines with her expressive eyes and effortless body movements. When she is hit by loneliness, she trembles and appears prematurely old; when she begins to rediscover her humor, one can see a tomboyish spark behind her close-lipped smile. In a scene between her and Shane Jerome (Yitz), their attraction is believable. Other actors, particularly Aylam Orian's army captain Avi, give noteworthy, appealing and vulnerable performances. Orion Delwaterman, however, as Sarah's husband Ephraim, doesn't bring quite enough magnetism into the play's most morally ambiguous character. His bursts of frustration play as too loud and his concealed attraction for Yael as excessively sheepish, causing a viewer to feel discomfort, rather than curiosity, in his presence.

Although Yom Kippur's unexpectedly open-ended conclusion is an affecting reflection of Yael' s conflict between motherly worry and patriotism, it only comes to stand in revealing contrast to the production's biggest flaw: its lack of unanswered questions. "This is war," its characters say to remind one another of the source of their elevated anxieties, but the extent of their confusion never translates in the dialogue. Each conflict is articulated with little ambiguity.

In an example, Rachel, a fellow new mother and an Israeli, reminds Yael of the glaring differences between American and local lifestyles. She mentions the plentitude of TVs, cars and accessible education in Yael's home country.

"War is part of life for Israelis. But you chose to come," Rachel says, in a line that, while true, both underlines the conflict that lies beneath her and Yael's friendship, and leaves us slightly dissatisfied.

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