A love triangle that lasts 35 years is at the heart of “To The End of the Land,” but the lives of the three main characters of this Israeli play, being presented in Hebrew with English supertitles at the Lincoln Center Festival, are less defined by love than by war.
This stage adaptation of David Grossman’s celebrated novel begins when Ora and her two eventual lovers, Avram and Ilan, are all 16 years old and meet in a hospital during the Six Day War in 1967.
In the Yom Kippur War of 1973, Avram is captured and tortured, and, after he’s rescued, he wants nothing more to do with Ora nor Ilan; when he finds out Ora is pregnant with his child, he wants nothing to do with his son either. Ilan marries Ora and raises the son, Ofer, as his own.
Then, in 2002, the grown-up Ofer is now in the Israeli army, and decides to re-enlist. An anxious Ora comes up with a unique and cockamamie way to keep her son safe. She decides to leave her home and hike to Galilee (“the end of the land” of Israel), so that nobody can come to her door to deliver the official news if her son has been killed.
Estranged though not divorced from Ilan, Ora locates Avram, and takes him on the hike, where they go over their lives, their past, the waxing and waning of their relationship. They reveal secrets they’ve kept from one another.
That is more or less the essence of this two and a half hour play, boiled down from Grossman’s 2008 novel, which runs 674 pages in its English translation. Director Hanan Snir, who wrote the adaptation, chops this story into pieces, and presents the pieces in an order that makes it more dramatic, and at times less than clear. He also spices it with an anti-naturalistic theatricality, harnessing the dozen cast members to populate the various scenes and even depict the sundry landscapes using minimal props, their own bodies, and occasional musical instruments. Although the creative team makes apparent attempts to help the audience — sometimes a character speaks directly to us, narrating – the play often feels geared to people who’ve read the novel, with short scenes inserted that feel shorn of the context the novel might provide them (or at least deprived of the extra time the readers get to figure out these eerie, lyrical scenes.)
Yet, there are enough moments in “To The End of the Land” that hit hard enough to compensate for the confusion, such as an effective combat scene and what one can call an anti-combat scene – when Ora (standout Efrat Ben Zur) lets out her frustration at leaders, both Arab and Israeli, while chopping a salad, calling out a different name with each angry chop of her knife.
“To The End of the Land” is produced by two Israeli theater companies, the Ha’Bima National Theatre and The Cameri Theatre of Tel Aviv.
To The End of the Land
Based on David Grossman’s novel
Adaptation and Direction Hanan Snir
Set Design Roni Toren
Music Ori Vidislavski
Movement Miri Lazar
Costume Design Polina Adamov
Dramaturg Noga Ashkenazi
Lighting Design Roni Cohen
Cast: Efrat Ben Zur as Ora, Dror Keren as Avram, Amnon Wolf as Ilan, Daniel Sabbag as Ofer, David Bilenca as Akiva, Guy Messika, Rinat Matatov, Amos Boaron, Harel Murad, Nir Barak, Eldar Brantman, Vitaly Podolsky
Running Time: 2 hours 45 minutes, including intermission
To The End of the Land runs through July 27, 2017