Motti Lerner’s controversial play ‘The Admission’ gets another life


\ Pomme Koch, Hanna Eady, Leila Buck and Danny Gavigan in Theater J's production of ‘The Admission.’ (C. Stanley Photography)

“The Admission” — Motti Lerner’s controversial play about a massacre of Palestinian civilians that just finished a short, sold-out run at Theater J — will have an afterlife. In an unusual move for a D.C. production, the show will transfer to Studio Theatre for a three-week commercial engagement starting April 30.

Producing the play’s second pass is Andy Shallal, the Washington restaurateur who recently lost a bid for the Democratic nomination for mayor. The 22-performance run in the Mead Theater, for which Studio is acting merely as landlord, will feature virtually the entire cast from Theater J’s “workshop production,” including Michael Tolaydo and Danny Gavigan as an Israeli father and son, ex-soldiers at odds over the son’s suspicions of a dark event in Israel’s past.

“It speaks to a topic that Arabs and Jews tend not to want to touch,” Shallal, a Baghdad-born Iraqi American who had long been a member of Theater J’s advisory council, said of the piece. “This is a play that brings the narrative together and that forces you to look at the other side. It needs to be exposed to more audiences, because it really helps to bring about some really solid dialogue.”

Lerner writes in “The Admission” about Gavigan’s Giora, a wounded veteran of a military action in Lebanon who tries to discover the circumstances surrounding the murder of a group of Palestinian villagers, by a unit commanded by his father, 40 years earlier, during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. In the run-up to the show, part of Theater J’s ongoing Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival, an ad-hoc group organized a protest, beseeching donors supporting the D.C. Jewish Community Center — which houses Theater J — to withhold their money until the play was withdrawn.

As a result, the D.C. JCC had Theater J downgrade “The Admission” to a shorter workshop run. However, according to Shallal and Ari Roth, Theater J’s artistic director, audience response was so positive and the run was so successful that Roth approached Shallal about producing an extension outside of the JCC.

“I said, ‘I’d love to help you,’ ” Shallal said. “I didn’t know by helping he meant producing it!”

In the meantime, Lerner said, officials of the Cameri Theatre, Israel’s leading stage company, told “The Admission’s” director, Sinai Peter, that they wanted to produce the play, too.

“I think we’ve started a journey that is really significant,” Lerner said. “To look at our history with open eyes, without fear of opening up ourselves.”

Peter Marks joined the Washington Post as its chief theater critic in 2002. Prior to that he worked for nine years at the New York Times, on the culture, metropolitan and national desks, and spent about four years as its off-Broadway drama critic.
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