West Bank, UK
They’re an odd couple indeed. But sadly, this one doesn’t have the spark of Oscar and Felix, nor the comedy of the George W. and Al Gore spoof of the Odd Couple on Saturday Night Live. This couple does not consist of a neat freak and a slob, but instead of a Palestenian and an Israeli who find themselves sharing a small flat in London. Their story is told in West Bank, UK, the haphazard attempt at a musical comedy currently playing at the LaMaMa E.T.C. The production attempts to fuse satire, comedy and commentary into 75 minutes and, sadly, it falls quite short.
After having his heart broken by a German ballerina, Assaf (Jeremy Cohen) returns to his rent-controlled flat in London only to find it occupied by a Palestenian refugee named Aziz. (Mike Mosallam). Unable to choose between the two of them, their landlord, who goes by the name NYC (NY to her friends) suggests that they share the apartment. After bonding over their shared scorn for American prejudice and racism the two become friends, and soon after, lovers, in an oddly amusing song with a chorus of, “Maybe we could lie like spoons tonight!” Their relationship is hardly monogamous, however, and quickly turns sour when Assaf brings home a blind date (Michelle Solomon as an uptight, but adventurous Jewish woman), and the men’s shared bed quickly turns into a separated apartment, with many arguments resulting about whose half is whose.
The story is peppered with songs of various genres, including old-fashioned musical theatre, salsa and even country, performed by an extremely adept and talented band. Attempting to function as an allegory or fable, the show falls sadly short of its intentions. The parallels between Assaf and Aziz are obvious – at times too obvious – but neither of the men are developed enough to warrant any sympathy or investment from the audience. Their romantic coupling, reminiscent of Molina and Valentin in Kiss of the Spider Woman , was predictable but hardly plot-advancing.
That could be because the play is lacking a plot. The show is more a series of sketches of the men’s life together than a story with a beginning, middle and end (it lacks the end, especially). The scenes do contain some poignant moments, especially one reminiscent of the recent debate over the cartoon of the prophet Mohammed, but some of the scenes feel unnecessary, while others feel simply strange.
This is disappointing, because the promise of the show is painfully obvious. The subject could not be more timely, or more necessary in America right now. The cast is extremely talented, with Mosaliam and Cohen giving heartfelt performances as Aziz and Asif. The two men’s harmonies while singing are achingly beautiful, which is an effective contradiction to the satire about the political and social situations that are being acted onstage.
One of these satires is one of the show’s highlights – a melody sung by television reporters sensationalizing the news, and how they like it, “hot hot hot.” One of them warbles, “Look what I found – a head in a tree/ Maybe I’ll make anchor if I show some sympathy.” The song is quick and clever and its point is a valid one It’s a shame there aren’t more scenes like that in the show.