From March ’08 Spotlight: Next Theatre Company of Evanston has a daring new adaptation of Ghassan Kanafani’s novella Return to Haifa. First published in 1968, Return to Haifa is the story of “Safiyeh” and “Ishmail,” a Palestinian couple who flee from their home in 1948, leaving their son behind in the chaos of displacement. Twenty years later, after the Six Day War reopens previously-closed borders, they learn that two Holocaust survivors, “Sarah” and “Jakob,” have raised the child as their own.
Although he knew that adaptations of Kanafani’s novella had already been staged in Israel, Next’s Artistic Director Jason Southerland wanted a less politicized version, so he asked playwright M.E.H. Lewis to start from scratch. If anything, the result now suffers from too much “balance,” as both mothers (played by Saren Nofs-Snyder and Diana Simonzadeh) fight for the soul of young “Moishe” (Miguel Cohen) by making long, heart-rending speeches enumerating their catastrophic losses. Meanwhile both husbands are soldiers. Safiyeh is alone in 1948 because “Ishmail” (Anish Jethmalani) is off fighting the Jews; “Jakob” (Daniel Cantor) leaves Sarah for the Sinai in 1956.
Nevertheless, while clearly still “a work in progress,” Southerland and Lewis have created a compelling drama that retains its allegorical edge. Next’s production of Return to Haifa runs through Mar 7. For tickets, call (847) 475-1875, or visit: www.NextTheatre.org.