Review by Tulis McCall
(11 Apr 2011)
This show brought to mind a comment someone made to me years and years ago. We were doing a summer season in a new company on the Upper West Side. For some reason the subject of Israel vs. Palestine came up, and I made a flip remark (Me? Flip??) to the effect of “What’s the big deal, anyway?” The woman sitting to my left said, very gently, “Tulis, there were people living there before it was Israel.” I had never considered that before and have never forgotten since.
Where is the line between claiming a land and stealing it from the last people who claimed it? Or is it a reality that whoever “owns” land is just the most recent one to claim it? After all, we live in Manhattan where, up until 1920 there were still farms in Manhattan owned by individuals. And do we really own the land that we confiscated from the tribes who lived here before us?
Mansour is treading on delicate territory here, and she comes very close to pulling it off.
In a brief prologue the adults are found in a messy, noisy argument. Abir (Jacqueline Antaramian), her brother Ghassan (Ted Sod), and her brother-in-law Hamzi (Demosthenes Chrysan) are all in an argument about how to tell the facts of the story. Of how they got to be where they are, which is a refugee camp for Palestinians in South Lebanon. Specificity is everything, and each person has a few choice details to add to the pot. As they say – the point is we left, but each and every point is open for discussion. In this family everyone likes to hear themselves talk – or shout as the case may be. Everyone except Adham (Ramsey Faragallah) who was a professor and would prefer the politics of poetry to the politics he lives with every day.
In 1948, as British Rule was ending and Israel wasbecoming a country, the Palestinians left their homes. Hundreds of thousands. There were stories of massacres that may have been inflated. This too is open for discussion. The only point on which they agree is that they are displaced Palestinians who have lived in a refugee camp for the better part of their lives.
Into this mix comes Jamila (Tala Ashe) who is studying for the exam that will take her out of the camps to a school and from there to the world. Like her father she is in love with literature, and so much does she remind him of the dreams he has forsaken that he is now turning on her for the first time in his life.
So much for the bare bones. There is a lot of grey area here that never gets sorted out clearly. I don’t know why these people chose to stay in the camp, or if there is really no choice. If Jamila can get out to go to school, why can’t the rest of them leave? Is the dream of returning to Palestine greater than the misery of living in this camp? What do they do for work? Does the professor teach still? Are they on some sort of welfare? How do they survive in this tiny cinder block shelter? There are holes as big as those in the walls of the set that need filling in.
But the jewel in this story is appropriately names Jul (Omid Abtahi). He is a 19 year old kid who went out into the street of Sidon and made the mistake of answering back to a Lebanese soldier. At the end of the chase, when Jul was cornered, the soldier hit him. Only the first time hurt. Jul suffered brain damage that has left him less than the boy he was, and he knows it. He cannot think coherently any longer.
This is the tale that lacks nothing. Omid Abtahi is exquisite in his portrayal of Jul. And it is this story onto which we can grab because it is made close and specific and personal. Similarly we also feel the shame and pain when Hamzi forces his family to look at their “home”. It is a humiliating dwelling that started out as temporary in 1948, and is now just a place from which everyone has the urge to go.
While Jamila is the only member of the family who chooses to remember what is possible, it is Jul who represents the high price that may be paid for such thoughts. This is a world where even the country of refuge doesn’t want its refugees.
I look forward to hearing more form Ms. Mansour and suspect that she will discover ways to fill in the blanks of her tales. These are stories we need to hear.
"Though its theme is familiar and it has a few structural flaws, Mona Mansour's "Urge for Going" displays plenty of promise and offers a compassionate view of a part of the world American theatergoers seldom get to see."
David Sheward for Back Stage
"The plot of is typical of the gotta-get-out-of-here play... But Mona Mansour has set this domestic drama, mounted with all due professionalism by the Public LAB, in a Palestine refugee camp in southern Lebanon - and that makes all the difference in the world.
Marilyn Stasio for Variety