‘In Between’ An Acting Tour de Force (4 Stars)

In Between – Written and performed by Ibrahim Miari based on the original workshop and staging by Christine Hamel. Presented by New Repertory Theatre, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown through April 20.

Ibrahim Miari is one compelling performer.  I first saw him in Naomi Wallace’s play ‘The Fever Charter’ a few years ago in Central Square. In a cast of excellent performers he stood out, with his ability to connect with the audience and beguilingly (and nicely) demand that we watch.  When I saw that he was doing his own one-man show at the New Rep, I jumped at the chance to see it.

‘In Between’ is a very personal story and performance.  Born to an Israeli Jewish mother and a Palestinian Muslim father, Miari stands between several worlds and conflicts.  Even his name is dual – until he was seven, Ibrahim was known as Avrahim. After winning a prize for the best Purim costume – Purim is his mother’s favorite holiday – Avrahim’s father has him transferred to a Muslim school where he is called Ibrahim.  As you can well imagine, this is just the beginning of the young man’s confused identity.

The play opens with Miari whirling onstage, light, happy, engaged to be married to a Jewish woman he met while they were both counselors at a peace camp for Israeli and Palestinian children.  In an instant, Miari’s demeanor changes as he assumes the posture of an El Air security guard, snapping on a latex glove and conducting a search of his own body. The line of interrogation sets a larger framework for the love story that the play is centered on: who will marry Miari and his fiance?  Will both sets of parents reconcile themselves to the in-between religious mix of the happy couple?  

As Miari tells us, he is a man who lives in between – religions, languages, cultures.  Raised in Acco, Israel, he is technically Jewish through his mother. Islam dictates that the child will have the religion of the father. Miari’s mother has converted to her husband’s religion. He and his fiance must find a way to create a world that will accommodate both of them that isn’t so much in between as inclusive.  

Fluent in both Hebrew and Arabic, Miari makes the switches between characters elegant and effortless.  He plays his own parents, his future mother-in-law, a Hebrew school teacher, a Rabbi, Sheikh and Buddhist priest (with the help of a more than life-sized puppet who wears different headgear), an interrogator, his younger self, and even his real self, breaking character several times to address the audience in the moment.  

As an actor, Miari is atonishing to watch.  He appears to be floating one moment as a man in love, then switches instantly to a man heavy and tense in body.  His eyes, kind and a little sad, turn steely and impenetrable as he’s interrogating his Jewish-Palestinian self.  He grows matronly and concerned as his future mother-in-law nicely but pointedly questions him about his religion, and harsh but loving as he morphs into his guarded but concerned father. Miari is also an accomplished singer and doumbek player, and the audience is treated to both.  

Miari’s stage is light on props and set – a chair, a suitcase containing the life-sized puppet and several small props including a gas mask.  Anything more might have detracted from his extraordinary performance, and despite the in-between-ness of his religious, cultural and political status, the one place where he indisputably belongs is onstage.  The interesting thing about Miari is despite his very real conflict, he appears at ease with himself.  The outside world can claim him as their own or as their enemy, but you get the feeling that deep inside this man there is the peace that he so desperately wants for the many forces pulling at him. For more info, go to: http://www.newrep.org/productions/next-rep-festival/in-between/