“How His Bride Came to Abraham,” by Karen Sunde, is the third and final production by the Playwrights Theater of New Jersey presented under the collective banner “Visions of Peace.” The play, written a decade ago, focuses on an orphaned teenage girl, possibly a suicide bomber, who has a brief encounter with an Israeli soldier. The potential for a timely romantic drama is in place, but the play is afflicted by sluggish direction and indifferent acting.
After his buddy is maimed by a landmine while on patrol, Abraham (Tzahi Moskovitz), a wounded Israeli Defense Force corporal, captures Sabra (Lana Yemaya Nasser), a young Palestinian woman. Waiting to be rescued from a volatile battle zone, a mile from the Lebanese-Israeli border, the soldier and his prisoner take refuge in a hillside hut. Anger and hostility eventually give way to an understanding of the crisis that has brought them together. The Palestinian refugee nurses the soldier’s foot, boils some potatoes and ultimately seduces him.
Playwright Sunde does not take sides in the conflict, and the dialogue has a crisp, biting edge. Sunde focuses on the tension between opposing factions and the innocent lives caught up in the turmoil. Unfortunately, the attractive Nasser offers a dispassionate, one-dimensional perf in a role that demands a sense of harbored passion, anger, urgency and purpose. Moskovitz makes a valiant attempt to define the relationship, the conflict and the war, almost single-handedly, and it’s simply too great a burden. The necessary emotional intensification never surfaces.
Marilyn Bernard, portraying the spirit of Abraham’s grandmother, offers poetic fragments from the 23rd Psalm and injects a brief, blurry reflection of the Holocaust. The character, well played by Bernard, is a cumbersome, intrusive device.
The script offers vivid portraits of offstage characters and action, and the cinematic thrust of the pieces summons the inspiration for a dandy film. But the staging by Ken Marini is uncomfortably sluggish. Pacing is marred by unbearably awkward incidental activity.
A cunning war-zone sound design by Jeff Knapp is dotted with the explosive crackle of gunfire and the boom of deadly booby traps. The rugged refuge hut designed by Richard Turick provides effectively dark, claustrophobic confinement. Everything is in place for a gripping drama, but it never materializes.