Revolving around everyday encounters and their sometimes life changing consequences, Anna Ziegler’s Dov and Ali tackles the issues of religious identity, love and patriarchy as they shape the lives of four people: Dov, Ali, Sonya and Sameh.
Set in Detroit, the play opens with Dov, a Jewish English teacher, and Ali, a fiercely bright Muslim student, offering their differing interpretation of Golding’s Lord of the Flies/ In doing so they reveal a chasm between their views on respect, rules and happiness.
Ziegler resists the urge to allow the play to be drawn into a discussion about topical world issues and instead focuses on the relationship between these two men. As the play unfolds, the audience watch Dov and Ali go through crises triggered by family events. Dov is the son of a Rabbi who starts to question both his faith and his two year relationship with the non-Jewish Sonya after his father decides to retire. Under the scrutiny of his student he finds his resolve and sense of purpose dissolving and as a result he takes some surprising decisions. Ali too is forced to reconsider the rules he lives his life by when events involving his sister Sameh and his father take a distressing turn. Beginning the play with a strict sense of filial respect and obligation, the young Muslim finds himself questioning his early assertion that life isn’t about being happy, it’s about being right.
The story develops over a series of conversations between Dov and Ali, Dov and Sonya and occasionally, Ali and Sameh. Alternating swiftly between scenes inside and outside the classroom, the plot is clearly signposted thanks to a narration by Sameh. Dressed head to toe in black with her hair covered by a hijab, Sameh has an otherworldly presence that becomes more significant as the play progresses.
Zeigler’s writing is, in places, beautiful and her characters are extremely well drawn. The writing is complimented by strong performances from Ben Turner, as Dov, and James Floyd, as Ali. Kiran Landa is equally impressive as the idealistic Sameh; both her and Orla Fitzgerald, as the belligerent Sonya, leave a lasting impression. The intense, intimate production works well in a venue such as Theatre 503 and Morgan Large’s design and David Holmes’ light creations help move events convincingly between the small spaces of bedroom, study and classroom.
The dialogue is mercifully clear of political preaching or didactic statements though this did leave me wondering what lessons Ziegler is trying to teach us. There are no easy answers to the issues raised by Dov and Ali; Instead, as the stage clears after the final scene, we are left gazing at the large whiteboard by the back wall, its expanse filled with scribbled questions.