People settled languidly into the vast auditorium. Though it was full, it was eerily silent. As we all took our seats the lights dimmed, the room began to grow darker. The spotlight hit the front of the stage as the director Wendy S. Moore appeared. She welcomes everyone and thanks them for coming, explaining that she has been waiting ten years for the right people to act in a play she feels so strongly about directing. She also notes the pleasure of having her husband act in a major role. As she ends her director’s notes she sets the scene.
Setting the days back to March, 1992 in the Amsterdam Red Light District, where exotic dancers, dance in the windows and escorts await their next client. A baker named Hans started redressing himself in the escort’s room, trying to convince a woman named Sonya to run away with him. She politely declines, as she shows him out. As he steps outside, Hans stumbles on a man hurt in the streets. Though he barely knows him, Han’s quickly gets him to a hospital.
This is where the heart-wrenching story begins. Hans visits the wounded man, Mahmoud, often — asking questions, playing board games, trying to understand the man that fell into his life unexpectedly. Little does he know, Mahmoud will have an incredible impact on his life. On one of Hans’s Visits, he offers Mahmoud a job at his bakery.
They spend almost the next three years together, baking side by side and dealing with cultural and moral differences. Hans being a Jew, and Mahmoud a Palestinian with a pronounced prejudice, they often clash about culture and religion, yet maintain a grudging respect for each other through it all, which grows into a deep friendship. Mahmoud from the start begins to fell in-love with his co-worker Nora. Mahmoud starts creating a life for himself — truly becoming happy. Then Mahmoud’s brother, Ashraf, makes a surprising visit that changes everything. Mahmoud is at a crossroad between the religious moral beliefs instilled in him by his family, and leaving his newly created life that he has just begun to understand.
The last night of the play, Mahmoud is in the bakery building some sort of device, and Hans stumbles in drunk. Mahmoud quickly hides what he has been working on, and starts talking with Hans. What follows is an intensely emotional heart to heart conversation between these two characters. The baker, Hans, has a past, a past he does not disclose much of, but the guilt and pain of what he has been through is obvious to anyone watching. Eventually disclosing that he feels it is his duty to help Mahmoud – it gives him a sense of relief.
Mahmoud in a fit of despair tells Han’s how he and his family were brutalized by the Israeli army, their land taken, friends and family members killed and forced into refugee camps with brutal conditions. He ends with telling Hans that he is being made to commit an act of terror under threat to his surviving family. Hans threatens to call the police, and he and Mahmoud have a clash of wills, ending with Mahmoud promising not to go through with it. Despite this, the next day Mahmoud blows up a Synagogue in Amsterdam, killing many and wounding 16.
Captivated by the double edge sword of the story, I walked away with a sense of “WOW,” as well the sense that there is always more to a story that meets the eye. Also how there is always a reason for someone’s actions, and right and wrong isn’t as simple as I once thought. Right now in our world there is conflict between many cultures. Cycles of violence are creating discrimination between many, as well as radical extremism that is perpetrating more violence, each side convinced that they have the right moral standpoint. In my opinion the first step towards peace is trying understand both sides.
The way the staged was set up with props, lighting, and great transitions really allowed for focus on the scene and not the surrounding props. Everyone there could feel the emotion each performer put into their characters, making for a very heartfelt, in-your-face, and thought provoking performance. It makes you feel almost blind when you finally put the whole story together. Overall it was one of the most amazing plays I have seen yet.