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Debórah Eliezer evocatively explores history, identity

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Debórah Eliezer is excellent in “(dis)Place[d],” part of foolsFURY Theater’s “Role Call.” (Courtesy Wendy Yalom)
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Debórah Eliezer’s metatheatrical, autobiographical performance piece “(dis)Place[d]” — part of a foolsFURY Theater double bill of unrelated solo shows under the umbrella title “Role Call,” directed by Ben Yalom — is so beautifully written, performed and directed that you might wish it were longer than its 40 or so minutes.

In it, Eliezer, who has a stage presence that’s both assured and endearingly vulnerable, explores her own lineage as the daughter of a Jewish-Iraqi father whose family had lived in Baghdad for 200 years — until World War II and the establishment of the state of Israel, when Jews were forced to flee Iraq en masse.

“Abba,” as Eliezer calls him, walked across the desert to Iran, eventually reaching Israel and then America.

Once home to 130,000 Jews, Iraq now has virtually none.

Eliezer gracefully interweaves her father’s story with her own longing to learn the long-held secrets of his life and thus to better understand her own identity.

“Your past is on a need-to-know basis,” she tells him. “Well, I need to know.” And later: “Each part of knowing you . . . complicates me.”

She also depicts, with wry humor, her effort to get at the heart of the very play she’s creating right now.

Along the way she inhabits several characters.

They include, most importantly, Abba at various stages of his life: old, with some dementia, in a wheelchair at a nursing home, and as both teenager in Baghdad and a younger man, always charming and somewhat mysterious.

She also plays Abba’s Iraqi grandmother, trying to protect him from anti-Jewish violence, and herself — as both narrator and loving daughter.

She sings haunting, presumably Mizrachi (Jewish Middle Eastern) songs and prayers that send chills up your spine and embodies, with exquisite, dancerly physicality and vocal power (and clothed in a gossamer, enveloping cape), non-human entities such as the land itself.

She tries to explain, to recorded voiceovers of judgmental dinner guests, exactly what “(dis)Place[d]” is meant to be about.

An upstage screen projects black-and-white images of a long-ago, long-lost Baghdad.

Eliezer is an expressive actor, and her story, lyrical and affecting, is one you’ve probably never heard before.

Unfortunately, the evening begins with Michelle Haner’s “Sheryl, Hamlet, and Me,” which is as convoluted and self-indulgent as the title suggests. Didactic and too long, it’s also awkwardly performed.

Yalom’s efforts to link the two pieces, via abstract movement, don’t help.

REVIEW
Role Call
Presented by foolsFURY Theater
Where: Noh Space, 2840 Mariposa St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 22
Tickets: $15 to $30
Contact: www.foolsfury.org

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