There has not been a more taut, better-acted production this spring than Israeli Stage’s swan song, The Return. Written by Hanna Eady and Edward Mask, and directed with staggering intensity by Guy Ben-Aharon, the play stars Nael Nacer and Philana Mia as two former lovers who have been pulverized by both each other and the hatred that prevails between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
He is a Palestinian Arab and she is an Israeli woman, and 13 years after the last time they saw each other, she flies through the door of the body shop he works at like a missile, completely upending and destroying what little life (and peace of mind) he’s been able to carve out for himself. She asks for forgiveness—though for what isn’t immediately clear—and we begin to get the sense that something horrible has happened between these two. Part of the thrill of The Return is that we never quite know where the story will zig or zag next, and as such it’s best that I don’t reveal much more here. He swears that he was guilty and that she has nothing to apologize for, but we know that can’t be the whole story, not least of all because we can see the intense storm brewing behind Nacer’s eyes.
And that’s part of the marvel of Nacer’s performance: the quiet intensity with which he communicates the most minute shifts in mood or feeling, the way the pain creeps up on him—and in effect us—and how he strips himself emotionally bare, revealing a humanity that is central to what The Return is trying to say about identity, love, and belonging.
Similarly, Mia is riveting as a woman who clearly has something she needs to get off her chest, consequences be damned. There’s an electricity between her and Nacer—but also an uncanny weariness—that makes their pairing so alluring. And that may be Ben-Aharon’s greatest marvel here: threading this 75 minute play with a relationship so fractured, painful, and real that we can’t help but be swept up in the injustice of it all.
This is must-see theater.
THE RETURN.THROUGH 5.19 AT ISRAELI STAGE AT THE CALDERWOOD PAVILION, 527 TREMONT ST., BOSTON. ISRAELISTAGE.COM