"‘West Bank, UK’ proves a clever, unsentimental approach to a difficult topic ... Cohen’s excellent songs have a way of being breezily irreverent..." - NY TIMES
"I was surprised at how successful and intelligent the show turned out to be"
- Joe Beaudin, NYTheatre.com
"A caustically witty four-person musical with a Middle Eastern-flavored score that succeeds in wringing hard-nosed fun out of deadly serious matters."
- Terry Teachout, Wall Stree Journal
check out Broadwayworld.com
In the new musical WEST BANK, UK, when Israeli ex-patriot, Assaf Ben-Moshe Benvenisti, breaks up with his German girlfriend and returns home to his rent-controlled flat on the West Bank of London, he discovers that Palestinian refugee, Aziz Hamoud, has taken over his lease. Their American landlord is torn between the two men, and urges them to work out their differences and learn to live together in harmony.
WEST BANK, UK co-stars Jeremy Cohen, most recently seen in MACCABEAT! THE HANUKKAH MUSICAL at this year's New York Musical Theatre Festival, as Assaf; and Mike Mosallam, whose credits include his solo show MUSLIM: THE MUSICAL and CARNIVAL! at Kennedy Center, as Aziz.
Joining Messrs. Cohen and Mosallam in the cast are Anthony Patellis and Michelle Solomon, who portrayed Teddy and Siatica, respectively, in Safdie and Cohen's FIDDLER SUB-TERRAIN.
WEST BANK, UK features set design by Michael V. Moore; lighting design by Matt Berman; costume design by Greco; musical direction by Scott Baldyga; and choreography by Wendy Seyb, whose work can currently be seen Off-Broadway in WALMARTOPIA. A two-piece ensemble comprised of Mr. Baldyga, from the LA-based group Kokopelli, and Jake Shulman-Ment Brown from with the New York based Village Klezmer Quintet and Romashka, will perform the Middle Eastern-flavored score. Casting by Stephanie Klapper and publicity by Sam Rudy Media Relations.
The world-premiere production of WEST BANK, UK was commissioned and developed by the Malibu Stage Company under the direction of Jacqueline Bridgeman, Founding President.
Oren Safdie and Ronnie Cohen previously collaborated on the La MaMa ETC hit musical comedy JEWS &JESUS, which The New York Times called "lovable… [Safdie and Cohen] have given the cast a lot of great irreverent material to work with."
Director and book author Oren Safdie is best known for PRIVATE JOKES, PUBLIC PLACES, "an X-Acto-blade-sharp comedy" (The New Yorker) about architecture, which was a critical Off-Broadway hit during the 2003-'04 season and subsequently has played across North America, Off-West End in London, and at the National Theatre in Romania. His most recent play, THE LAST WORD…, was presented Off-Broadway last season, starring two-time Emmy Award-winner Daniel J. Travanti of "Hill Street Blues." Mr. Safdie is also the author of the films "You Can Thank Me Later," starring Ellen Burstyn, and the Israeli film "Bittersweet," which recently played at the Jerusalem and Montreal World Film Festivals. Other plays include HYPER-ALLERGENIC, BROKEN PLACES, LAUGHING DOGS and LA COMPAGNIE, which was developed as a pilot for CBS/Castle Rock. He also writes for Metropolis Magazine and contributes to Dwell.
Composer and lyricist Ronnie Cohen, a Fulbright Scholar, is a graduate of Columbia University's Poetry Division, and the Berklee School of Music. He has contributed articles to the Los Angeles Times and LA Weekly, and teaches English at Palisades Charter High School in California. His father is songwriter Avshalom Cohen, famous in Israel for the song "Agala Im Susa," and other popular hits.
Malibu Stage Company, a Non-for-Profit Company, was created in 1990 and has presented a variety of programs in venues throughout Malibu. In 1998, it acquired a disused Lutheran church near Point Dume and converted it into a state-of-the-art 99-seat theatre. From the company's inception, co-founder and producer Jacqueline Bridgeman has provided managerial and design services to virtually all of Malibu Stage's 30-plus productions, including world premieres of John Shaner's, FELLOW TRAVELER, Charles Marowitz's MUDERING MARLOWE, and Oren Safdie's PRIVATE JOKES, PUBLIC PLACES and THE LAST WORD….
WEST BANK, UK is sponsored by the Quebec Government Office -New York, and the Theodore Dubin Foundation.
Joe Beaudin · November 30, 2007
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I have to admit: when I was watching the first 15 minutes of West Bank, UK, I felt a little uneasy because I thought what was going to unfold throughout the 75-minute runtime of the show was another dramatic production about conflict in the Middle East that was going to make me feel guilty for not knowing... more about the conflict in the Middle East. Fortunately, my intuition was wrong, and the show's music, lyrics, and actors wooed me and won me over by the end.
West Bank, UK is a musical comedy, written (book) and directed by Oren Safdie with music and lyrics by Ronnie Cohen, which tells the story of Assaf, an Israeli who returns to his rent-controlled apartment in London after being dumped by his German girlfriend. When he arrives, he finds Aziz, a Palestinian refugee, has taken over the lease and has been living there for the past year while he was away. There is a mix-up as to who really owns the apartment, and without going into great detail, the point is that the two must now share the space and become roommates, as suggested by their new landlord, poignantly named NYC, who happens to be an American. The two try to get along, but eventually have to split the apartment in two spaces, each living on his own side. Sound familiar?
What is so successful about this production is its interpretation of such a heavy subject. Safdie and Cohen have chosen for that to be farcical and allegorical, which adds to its pleasant originality. There is a scene in the beginning of the show where Aziz and Assaf are watching a CNN broadcast of the bloody troubles of the Middle East. Two reporters go into song about how they "like the action hot, hot, hot if people get shot, shot, shot," dancing around to this pseudo "Copacabana"-style arrangement, and proclaiming "Maybe I'll make anchor if I show some sympathy." At that point, I knew I was in for something different, as I began to tap my foot to the beat.
In addition to four actors, the ensemble includes three musicians who play their instruments upstage the entire show and another musician who plays a sitar-like instrument in the balcony to the right of the audience. Mike Mosallam as Aziz and Jeremy Cohen as Assaf play their parts successfully, and harmonize well together. Mosallam is a lovable teddy bear whose meekness is charming and whose comic and musical theatre skills are utilized well in this part. Likewise, Cohen, as the Israeli, is intense and his solo towards the end of the show is a highlight.
The chorus members, however, are even more enjoyable to watch because they perfectly and comically portray an absurd variety of characters. Michelle Solomon skillfully steps into an assortment of shoes playing NYC, one of the CNN reporters, an orthodox Jew named Bathsheva, and a suicide bomber. Not only is she funny, but she inhabits this farcical world, never commenting on it the entire time. Anthony Patellis as the second chorus member also shows his talent, specifically as the other suicide bomber. His dance moves will make you giggle.
I was surprised at how successful and intelligent the show turned out to be. My judgmental tendencies were squashed by the end, and I was left to ponder what had just taken place. It was like sitting through a sitcom of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, the audience being its laugh track. It may sound trite and disrespectful to treat such a serious topic with lightness and jokes, but you almost have to interpret it that way for anyone to listen. This show, specifically its authors and director and choreographer, took a risk: a pleasant and enjoyable and intelligent risk.
Broadway's Back - and Booming
Terry Teachout, The Wall Street Journal
Off-Broadway, playwright-director Oren Safdie ("Private Jokes, Public Places") and songwriter Ronnie Cohen have given the "Avenue Q" treatment to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in "West Bank, UK," a caustically witty four-person musical with a Middle Eastern-flavored score that succeeds in wringing hard-nosed fun out of deadly serious matters. You were expecting maybe a comic duet sung by a pair of suicide bombers? Well, that's what you get -- and it works, believe it or not, as does the rest of this rough-edged but nonetheless smart little show
My Roommate Is My Enemy, Though We Do Like to Sing
Rachel Salts, The NY Times
A musical comedy about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sounds more like a punch line than like a pleasant night at the theater. (What yuks!) But the creators of “West Bank, UK,” Oren Safdie (book) and Ronnie Cohen (music and lyrics), do an excellent job of avoiding the most obvious pitfalls — partisanship, preachiness and political naïveté — even if they get bogged down in allegory.
The show, a production of La MaMa and Malibu Stage Company, covers 100 or so years of history through the story of a contested apartment in London. Aziz (Mike Mosallam), a Palestinian, lives in the rent-controlled flat that may or may not belong to Assaf (Jeremy Cohen), an Israeli who has been dumped by his German girlfriend and wants to move back in. The landlord, an American named NYC, makes them share the apartment.
They bicker at first, then find a common enemy — America, as described in a jaunty country-western song — and even fall in love a little. After all, they like the same foods and have the same noses and bald patches. Spoiler alert: the amity doesn’t last. It quickly becomes enmity, and the roommates divide the apartment in two.
When the allegory works, “West Bank,” directed with infectious momentum by Mr. Safdie, proves a clever, unsentimental approach to a difficult topic. The best parts stick closest to the messy logistics of sharing the apartment. How can Assaf survive without access to the bathroom, or Aziz without being able to use the kitchen? And the mostly excellent songs have a way of being breezily irreverent while showing Aziz and Assaf’s longings and aspirations.
But about midway through, the allegory begins to overwhelm the drama. For historical reasons, Assaf has to be attracted to Bathsheva, a religious hard-liner with a yen for violence who stands in for the West Bank settlers.
“A bit of torture builds character,” she sings.
“Will you marry me?” he asks.
It’s ugly and funny, but it makes no sense for the characters. Neither does an improbable fight about a cartoon of Muhammad, or the arrival of suicide bombers.
Because every character, action and line of dialogue does double duty, your head begins to spin connecting all the dots. “I get it,” I heard someone say, “the French neighbor is the Sykes-Picot Agreement.”
No doubt. But it sure helps that he gets a song-and-dance number.