Off-Broadway Review: THE ALLY (Public Theater)

Post image for Off-Broadway Review: THE ALLY (Public Theater)

by Gregory Fletcher on February 27, 2024

in Theater-New York

“In all debates, let truth be thy aim, not victory, or an unjust interest.”
― William Penn

Itamar Moses (The Band’s Visit) is a playwright we should all be listening to. His new play The Ally, which opened tonight at the Public Theater, is so timely and relevant, it acts as a master class in fully understanding all sides of the heated debates of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It also ties a direct link from the Middle East to the racism in America, reminiscent of Ava DuVernay’s brilliant film Origin. Afterwards, you will have a much clearer impression of genocide in our world today. Whether you feel impassioned, embittered, or simply find it hard to verbalize your opinions, you owe it to yourself to see this thought-provoking play.

Josh Radnor

It’s a testament to Moses’s writing that with so many viewpoints none of the characters come off as the hero or ultimate expert. Despite their rebuttals, refusals and rejoinders, Moses exposes their “warts and all” humanity — those flaws that are embedded in our psyches no matter how hard one searches for truth.

Madeline Weinstein, Michael Khalid Karadsheh, and Elijah Jones
Michael Khalid Karadsheh and Madeline Weinstein

During office hours at an unnamed university, the journey begins when an adjunct screenwriting professor, Asaf (Josh Radnor), meets a former student, Baron (Elijah Jones). Asaf is asked to sign a petition for a group that wants justice for the recent murder of Baron’s cousin, which echos in similarity to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Of course Asaf wants to support the cause, but oddly enough, his ex-girlfriend from 20 years ago, Nakia (Cherise Boothe)  — an African-American community organizer — is leading the group and writing the mission statement, which uses inflammatory words such as “apartheid” and “genocide.”

Josh Radner, Madeline Weinstein, Cherise Boothe, and Michael Khalid Karadsheh

Despite his objection to misappropriating such words, Asaf signs. His publicized signature leads to another request by two more students (Madeline Weinstein and Michael Khalid Karadsheh) to be a faculty sponsor for a new Jewish group that supports Palestine. When the group sponsors an anti-Zionist to speak against the Israeli government, Asaf’s Korean wife Gwen (Joy Osmanski) — who works for the university — adds another turbulent flame to the fire of debates. Being challenged by a fifth complaint from Reuven (Ben Rosenfield), a PhD student in Jewish History, Asaf struggles to hold his own, winding up alone on stage at the end of both acts. The characters’ five-sided debate is articulated with gravitas, delivered with such zeal and fervor by a crackerjack cast that I dare you not to be transfixed. Never leaving the stage, Mr. Radnor remains intensely focused with acute listening skills and surprising subtleties.

Ben Rosenfield and Josh Radnor

The carpeted stage of Lel Jellinek’s minimalist set aptly flows from location to location without the need of a scene change. Director Lila Neugebauer embraces the simplicity by staging the actors’ entrances prior to their scene. Thus, with a turn of Asaf’s focus and a slight change in Reza Behjat’s lights, scenes effortlessly segue without a moment’s hesitation. Ms. Neugebauer also elicits a full-bodied characterization from her actors, each of whom is as clear and concise as the writing. Despite the fact that everyone onstage is at odds, her wise direction keeps everyone working together to serve an electrifying event that is not to be missed.

Joy Osmanski

photos by Joan Marcus

The Ally
The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street
Tues-Sun at 7:00; Sat & Sun at 1:00
ends on March 17 EXTENDED to March 24, 2024
for tickets, call 212.967.7555 or visit The Public

Cherise Boothe

follow Gregory Fletcher at Website, Facebook, Instagram, and tik tok: @gregoryfletcherNYC

Leave a Comment