The Arab-Israeli Cookbook

REVIEW by Willard Manus

"Spread the table and contention will cease" is a wellknown proverb. The sentiment lies at the heart of THE ARAB-ISRAELI COOKBOOK by Robin Soans, a British playwright who specializes in "verbatim plays," plays based on interviews with ordinary people which he then weaves into a dramatic tapestry. Soans put Arab-Israeli together when he was living in Jerusalem and was approached by two directors, one Arab, the other Israeli, to write a play about the Middle East conflict and about how people managed to survive and live their everyday lives.

Food became the metaphor for the play. Nine actors impersonating a total of 35 old and young Israelis and Arabs take the stage and deliver monologues during which they either talk about food or prepare it before our eyes. As the smells of tahini and falafel waft over the audience, the talk begins to turn personal and political as memories of war, the Intifada, suicide bombings and internment camps emerge, sometimes with anger and hatred, other times with sadness and regret. The characters address the audience, not each other; there are no confrontation scenes, no face to face quarrels or recriminations.

The leavening effect of food balances the didacticism; thoughts of favorite dishes or drinks bring out the best in people, prevent them from spouting propaganda. There is also much humor and wit in what is said; humanity and compassion as well.

Director Louis Fantasia does a skilful job in choreographing all the entrances and exits, and he has coaxed remarkable performances out of his cast, which includes Osmail Abou-El-Kanater, Dorothy Constantine, Iman Nazemzadeh, Sarah Bell, Ros Gentle, Louis R. Plante, Ric Borelli, Jill Holden, Dre Slaman (plus understudy Amy Wieczorek).

THE ARAB-ISRAELI COOKBOOK does what it can to bring people of the dehumanized, polarized Middle East together. It doesn't pretend to have answers for all that ails Arabs and Jews, but it does show that they do at least share a common interest in food and conviviality. It's nice to think that recipes, not blueprints, will lead the way to peace. (MET Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave, Hollywood. Call 323-957-1152 or visit