Somewhere in Ilan Hastor’s “Masked,” there’s a taut, frightening story about a locked room on the West Bank toward which undefined, lethal forces slowly slouch like Yeats’ rough beast. That story has not made its way to the stage at Off Broadway’s DR2, where the play is doomed by lazy stagecraft, an irredeemably weird performance from Arian Moayed and much bad translation.
The Israeli Hastor’s study in Palestinian desperation during the Intifada opens on the back room of a butcher’s shop, where two brothers, the guileless Khalid (Sanjit De Silva, who doesn’t have much to do) and his brutal elder Na’im (Moayed), are discussing what to do with their older sibling Daoud (Daoud Heidami). Daoud has been named a traitor to the town’s extremist faction, and now the group wants to string him up. Unfortunately, the charges against Daoud appear validated by every passing note his brothers compare, so the two resolve to question him about his relationship with a particularly brutal arm of the Israeli intelligence service called the Shabak.
During these proceedings, Moayed seems so distracted that it’s, well, distracting. He tugs at his shirt, speaks his lines as though he can’t wait to finish them and stares anywhere but at his fellow actors. In Moayed’s defense, director Ami Dayan doesn’t appear to have actually blocked the show except in a couple of moments directly related to the dialogue, so it makes sense that Moayed looks uncomfortable.
Thus, when Daoud arrives and the men physically fight one another, they throw themselves into their work with an abandon that can only be born of standing awkwardly in front of a hundred people with nothing to do. This makes the conflict thrilling, or at least relieving, but also damages the play’s credibility later when people who have been bear-hugged and body-slammed by one another start pulling out guns. Did nobody stop to wonder what that hard, L-shaped metal thing in his jacket was? Do we not frisk people before we tie them up in this part of the West Bank?
The play’s most compelling moments come exclusively from Heidami’s Daoud, whose pragmatism makes him at first sympathetic, then flawed and, finally, vile. Hastor makes two striking points with Daoud: that the desire to avoid self-sacrifice is normal, not craven, and that the desire for it (personified in Na’im) can be fueled by blind fury, rather than selflessness.
Only shafts of this escape through the thematic opacity of Michael Taub’s translation. “So you went and got all puffed up, but they’ll take the wind out of you in no time!” Na’im shouts at his brother. What? It’s impossible to dig deeper into the script when so much time is spent wondering what’s going on with a turn of phrase or an odd word.
After extended shouting over New York Theater Workshop’s delay of “My Name Is Rachel Corrie” last year, the Gotham theater community has responded to guilt-tripping like one of Pavlov’s dogs to a dinner bell. Two plays about Palestinians open this week alone (the other is Betty Shamieh’s “The Black Eyed”). But it’s not enough to clumsily throw a drama about Arabs on the stage and hope it works.