‘After the War’ examines how controversial conflicts can split families

‘After the War’ examines how controversial conflicts can split families

By Jordan Wright (Photo/Stan Barouh)

Israeli playwright Motti Lerner’s world premiere production, “After the War,” is set in the two weeks following the end of the Second Lebanon War, which began in July 30, 2006 following an airstrike by the Israeli military on Hezbollah targets in Lebanon. A time of fear, vulnerability and ambiguity for both sides, it hardly mattered who cast the first stone, since good fences don’t necessarily make good neighbors, and war comes easier to these frequent enemies.

For Joel (Paul Morella), a world-renowned concert pianist, it is his duty as an artist to speak out. Unfettered by his country’s jingoist politics, he takes a broader view of war’s toll on humanity, speaking out to anti-war and human rights groups to draw attention to the suffering of those affected, even if that speech is against his own country.

In this instance, he agitates for aid for Lebanese orphans — a political position unimaginable in Israel. “The person is also his conscience,” Joel insists.

When he returns after 18 years to make amends with his family for his absence, he is received as a traitor. Joel has returned to give a concert to raise funds for the orphans, and his family is determined to undermine it.

Living in Tel Aviv, they have endured the wrath and excommunication of neighbors and a government that condemns Joel’s outspoken beliefs. His brother Freddie (James Whelan) has had his business destroyed, and his son Izzy (Guy Kapulnik) fought in the war. Both hold an entirely different view based on their wartime experiences.

With all the elements of a Greek tragedy that pits brother against brother, mother (Barbara Rappaport) against son, and son against his own son, the story reveals the conflict burning within as each betrays Joel. It is described in a press release as such: “The play speaks of the artist’s responsibility in an embattled society and illustrates the entrenched divisions between elite cultural purveyors and working class pragmatists; between right-wing and left-wing Israelis; and by extension, between conservative and liberal forces in a divided American Jewish community.”

At times, director Sinai Peter’s staging seems overdramatized and the actors could be accused of emoting. But there is a raw passion at hand and a fierce commitment to tell a story of how a family’s faith in one another can be destroyed by war. Also bear in mind that Lerner, who describes this play as autobiographical, cannot mount this play in his own country.

An exceptional cast puts this play on the must-see list.