In ‘Fever Chart,’ divided they stand
Three short plays examine relations in Middle East
CAMBRIDGE — In an interview with The New York Times in 1997, the same year her play “One Flea Spare’’ won the Obie Award for best play, Naomi Wallace said: “I am moved by the way the system breaks people in half, and still they rise up to tell their story again, with grace and eloquence.’’
She was speaking of the residents of her native Kentucky, but the playwright’s description also fits the characters in “The Fever Chart: Three Visions of the Middle East,’’ a triptych of short plays by Wallace now at Central Square Theater in a well-acted production by Underground Railway Theater.
The episodes that make up “Fever Chart’’ were inspired by actual events, but Wallace, who now lives in England, has created “dream plays’’ that, while politically pointed, also go beyond the headlines out of the Middle East.
Those headlines consistently tell a story of division and separation and apartness, but, in the first two plays, Wallace implicitly argues that for Israelis and Palestinians, the deeper truth is quite the opposite. “Fever Chart’’ suggests that the relationship between the two peoples amounts to a near-familial bond, built of a shared experience of loss, a similarly tragic history, the inescapable fact that they live literally side by side, and their simple common humanity.
In “Vision One: A State of Innocence,’’ a young Israeli soldier named Yuval (Dan Shaked), a machine gun strapped to his back, is sweeping up inside a zoo in Rafah, a city in the Gaza Strip. His solitude is broken by the appearance of a Palestinian woman named Um Hisham Qishta (Maria Silverman) and an Israeli architect named Shlomo (Ken Baltin).
At first, their exchanges are elliptical and charged with hostility. “You, with your building and building, you eat up our future,’’ Um Hisham tells Shlomo. Yuval fires back at her: “And given the chance, you would eat us.’’
Eventually, Shlomo leaves, but Um Hisham stays, and what she has to say to Yuval is mysterious and disturbing to the soldier. He has no memory of ever meeting her, yet she addresses him with an intimate familiarity, expressing sympathy for his mother. His unease intensifies still further when she describes how her young daughter died of an Israeli bullet when she was tending her pigeons on the roof (a memory that Silverman evokes with great power).
In the denouement, Yuval learns the details of a fateful encounter he had with Um Hisham in the past, which contained the seeds of both tragedy and reconciliation.
In “Vision Two: Between This Breath and You,’’ a Palestinian man named Mourid (played by the versatile Baltin) enters a medical clinic in West Jerusalem and demands to see an Israeli nurse’s aide named Tanya (Najla Said).
Mourid does not have anything physically wrong with him, but after some hemming and hawing, he begins to tell Tanya about his son, who died years earlier. “It’s more than a loss,’’ he tells her. “It’s an abyss. It’s a quiet howling. Can you hear that howling?’’
There is a reason that Mourid asks that kind of question, a reason he looks at Tanya so intently, and a reason he knows so much about the medical condition she tries to hide. It has to do with a quite deep connection between Tanya and Mourid’s late son, one that, if true — and Tanya at first does not believe it is — would mean that she literally owes her life to the son.
Baltin, a veteran Boston actor, and Said, the Palestinian-American daughter of the late scholar Edward Said, are riveting in their scenes together. (Said is performing her one-woman show, “Palestine,’’ on Dec. 8 at the Central Square Theater.)
“Vision Three: The Retreating World’’ consists of a monologue by an Iraqi birder named Ali (Ibrahim Miari). His dreamy recollections of his hobby (“My birds, they were a mix of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim,’’ he says with a smile) slowly give way to darker memories of the impact on Iraq of the 1991 Gulf War. Unlike the first two plays, “The Retreating World’’ ends with an image — a shower of white feathers representing the bones of the dead — that does not suggest the possibility of reconciliation but rather, the depth of a permanent wound.
Don Aucoin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.