Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 8, 2009

Dov and Ali

Chester Theatre, Chester, MA
through July 12, 2009
by Donna Bailey-Thompson

"Dov and Ali" is not as densely intellectual a play as its opening minutes suggest. Rather, it is a romantic and spiritual dilemma due to two patriarchs, one Jewish, the other Muslim, who perpetuate rules of behavior originated by their common ancestral leader - Abraham - as interpreted within the sentiments of the Holy Bible and the Holy Koran. Challenges are not voiced by Mahr, Hitchens, or Vidal. Instead, Ali, an intense, tormented student, a Pakistani immigrant (winningly played by Manish Dayal) stalks his yarmulke-wearing teacher Dov for clues on how to torpedo angst driven by frustration with rigid customs. In the process, Dov (Benjamin Pelteson) exchanges guilt-studded bravado with enough global guilt to sustain a kibbutz of mothers.

The cerebral suffering of the student and teacher ennobles their status as males, the designated leaders, whereas Ali's sister, Sameh (Lipica Shah) who serves as the play's narrator, commentator, and occasionally confrontational dialog, and Dov's shiksa live-in girlfriend Sonya (Heddy Lahmann) are emotionally abandoned in keeping with their assigned disposable status as love objects.

In his welcoming remarks, Artistic Director Byam Stevens said that in spite of the economic crisis influencing other theatres to present lighthearted fare, Chester Theatre Company's 20th season is continuing to offer its audiences thought-provoking contemporary plays. Sunday's appreciative matinee audience was prepared to give the cast a third curtain call.

The results of Director Michelle Tattenbaum and Set Designer Sean A. Cote partnership are exemplary. The four well-cast actors move naturally on a small stage that morphs seamlessly from venue to venue.

Playwright Anna Ziegler's script, set in Detroit, demonstrates that internecine conflict is not confined to geographic boundaries. Decades ago, American audiences warmed to the innocence of "Father Knows Best." Centuries earlier, the Montagues and Capulets stirred the sentiments of possibilities. Now "Dov and Ali" carry a banner. And the beat goes on.