The opening sequence of The Arab-Israeli Cookbook, British playwright Robin Soans's docu-drama on terrorism and sectarian strife in the Middle East, begins like a dumb show in a Medieval mystery play. Actors take the stage, acknowledging one another mostly silently as they begin to prepare the audience for what is to come: the collective action of bringing together a meal. The basic ingredients for the evening are all assembled and made ready to go and then just as quickly as they came, the actors are gone. These day in and day out activities, performed so casually here against what we know intellectually (but not experientially) is a backdrop of violence, militarism and regular terrorist attacks, is now set firmly as the provocative metaphor of the evening.
Studio 180 director Joel Greenberg, whose last project was the Canadian premiere of The Laramie Project, has stayed with a powerful storytelling technique that is difficult to dispute: "the simplicity and poignant humanity of people telling their own stories in their own words" to quote Greenberg from the program notes.
Seven characters playing multiple roles, demands versatility and consistency in style and delivery. If one is out of sync, chances are every other character that actor plays will fall prey to the same fate. Greenberg has purposely set out to establish an ensemble of players with Studio 180 which doesn't necessarily mean we see the same faces each time they mount a production. What we do see is an insistence on technique that clearly demands the actor meet the material head on.
In creating his play, Soans did the legwork by traveling to Israel and the West Bank with two British directors, one of Arab descent and the other Jewish. The finished script was distilled from over 80 interviews with Arabs, Israelis, and Palestinians - Jewish, Greek Orthodox, Muslim and Christian. I didn't try to count the number of different characters encompassed in the play and portrayed with fine detail and portrait like definition by Victor Ertmanis, David Fox, Barbara Gordon, Mark McGrinder, Jeff Miller, Kimwun Perehinec and Maria Ricossa but by the end of the evening it was clear that they had all met the challenge that every actor faces when they take the stage. They told the truth.