On a sparse stage, with nothing but a stunted wooden chair, a kaleidoscopic patterned hand-drum and a suitcase with airport luggage tags, a single actor gives life to the empty space.
On Wednesday, March 9, actor Ibrahim Miari brought his award-winning one-man show “In Between” to Brandeis. The show centers heavily on the theme of identity, focusing on Miari’s life as both an Arab and Jewish man growing up in Israel. Miari takes on a wide array of characters, including both of his parents, his wife’s Jewish mother and an airport security member, as well as going back and forth through time in order to tell the story of his life.
The play begins with the sound of an airport’s chatter as Miari enters and begins performing a form of Sufi dance, whirling in circles. This continues as an unknown speaker tries to pronounce his name over an intercom until it becomes more recognizable, and Miari stops. Miari described this dancing in the show as a way of showing his character at peace within his own mind. This dance serves as both an elegant transition and a sublime spectacle for the audience, and Miari utilizes it multiple times over the course of the play.
A core strength of his piece was Miari’s intelligent use of the limited elements at his disposal—his own body and sound effects—to create a surreal atmosphere. Miari frames much of his narrative around a member of airport security raiding his luggage and the subsequent interrogation. When Miari first enters as this security member, the music becomes ominous and robotic, and he slips a blue glove onto one of his hands. The gloved hand becomes at war with the rest of his body, moving in a surgical manner and assimilating a character of its own. Miari manages to create this effect without uttering a word.
One of the most interesting and well-utilized props was a life-sized puppet used to play both a Rabbi and a Buddhist (the Rabbi wore a different hat). Though the character itself was more of a caricature, the use of a puppet made this over-the-top caricature a success, and helped to better convey the difficulty of Miari’s marriage plans through his use of comic elements.
The show features a multitude of characters that Miari alone plays. One of the funniest and most impressive characters was that of his wife Sarah Goldberg’s Jewish mother. The monologue was hilarious and felt entirely real, despite being comedic in nature. Miari did not overplay typical stereotypes and managed to craft an extremely real mother character. He does this relatively successfully with his performance of his own mother and father as well. I was particularly interested in his portrayal of his mother designing Miari’s Purim costume. Miari revealed real depth in her character when she shares with her son, looking back to see if her husband is watching, that Purim is her favorite holiday as well. Miari gives real insight into the household in his portrayal of his parents.
Sometimes, however, Miari drifted into characters that felt flat. The airport security member, while threatening at points, fell into the stereotype of the monologuing, pure evil villain. The way the lines were delivered were a little over-the-top, losing some of the character’s potential for raw power, especially considering he was one of the characters with the most screen time.
Miari said he prefers to “focus on telling a story and connecting with the audience.” At many points during the show, he would switch from Hebrew, to Arabic and back to English. While not being able to understand some of these lines, it was fascinating to see how other members of the audience would react with laughter. Miari claims “there is no fourth wall” in his performance. Whenever someone opened a can of Coca-Cola, or sneezed, he would take the time to say things like “Bless you” or “Another Coca-Cola?” While shocking and funny at first, it became superfluous when he took the time to hurriedly motion latecomers into the theater every time. It was awesome to see an actor care so much about audience interaction, increasing the personal feel of the performance, despite sometimes disrupting my immersion in the actual story.
“We are not just one thing,” Miari says, and this applies to all people. “In Between” manages to illuminate much of Miari’s personal conflict being both Jewish and Arabic, utilizing powerful vignettes from his life story, without the need for a massive set. Miari tells the story of his life, putting it out there for the sheer purpose of connecting with the audience. “In Between” alludes to a conflict that is global in scale, but sized down to a personal level so that anyone can connect with Miari’s struggle.