JUNE 15, 2017 – BOSTON — “Days of Atonement,” Israeli playwright Hanna Azoulay Hasfari’s lean, emotionally charged drama, explores the thorny and complex landscape of family dynamics against the backdrop of preparing for Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.
Hasfari, who is the Israeli-born daughter of Arabic-speaking Moroccan Jewish immigrants, draws on her own experience to tell the story of four sisters who reunite in Netivot, their childhood home, which was established by Moroccan and Tunisian immigrants in the 1950s.
Three of them are summoned by their youngest sister, Amira (Dana Stern), to help locate their mother, who has disappeared. Estranged for decades, their reconnection is fraught with friction.
The four Ohana sisters are a palette of religious, ethnic, and generational differences. The only sabra, Amira is in her early 20s and attends film school in Tel Aviv. She sashays about in the stifling summer heat in spandex underwear, to the shock of older sister Evelyn, 44, (Adrianne Krstansky) who is ultra-Orthodox from her dress to her life-threatening ninth pregnancy.
Fanny (Ramona Lisa Alexander), in her late 30s, is an assimilated, feisty, successful realtor whose teenage pregnancy got her thrown out of the house. The oldest, Malka (Jackie Davis), is a miserable busybody homemaker who was forced into an arranged marriage after Fanny shamed the family name.
Amira suffers panic attacks and is in danger of flunking out of school. Evelyn’s identity is so wrapped up in motherhood that she refuses the abortion that may save her life. Fanny tries to fill the hole left by the son she gave up for adoption by buying a Vietnamese baby, and Malka obsesses over her husband’s imagined infidelities, mirroring their mother’s toxic behavior toward their father.
It’s hard to believe they grew up under the same roof with the same parents, which is precisely the point Hasfari is trying to make. Driving it home with a reunion triggered by a search for their mother, reflected through four multicultural lenses, makes for brilliant theater.
The four sisters take turns laying bare their souls. “It’s Yom Kippur. No time for games,” Malka says without a hint of irony. As they inventory their transgressions and expose the hidden pain they silently carry, the sisters lurch from hostility to love, from shame to humor.
We hear four sides to every childhood event. All (except Amira) tell stories of being immigrants and the hardships they faced as outsiders. Ultimately, though, politics are irrelevant to the sisters’ universal story of family and the female perspective.
The production is theater at its finest. Guy Ben-Aharon’s direction is minimalist; he wisely lets Hasfari’s crisp script carry the load. Even props are token: all except three benches and a camcorder are mimed. The acting across the board is stellar, each sister unique, consistent, and believable.
“Days of Atonement” is at the Calderwood Pavilion, 527 Tremont St., Boston, through June 25. For more information or to buy tickets, visit israelistage.com.