Noa is an Israeli Jew. Her husband Amir is Palestinian but has an Israeli passport – he’s from Haifa, a place of relative ethnic harmony. Karim and Laila hail from Palestine, too, but grew up in walled cities and refugee camps. Hamoudi’s Syrian hometown is besieged by ISIS. And it’s in a Berlin German class that these five individuals, manifest proof that there’s no monolithic experience of the Middle East, meet.
That’s the premise of The Situation, the newest piece from Maxim Gorki resident director Yael Ronen. Ronen’s work often lets biography and fiction crash against one another, as in last year’s moving and often funny Common Ground, about the Yugoslav Wars. While this production doesn’t have the same emotional gut-punch, it’s still a vigorous, vibrant piece of theatre. And a timely one, posing questions about the limits of Germany’s Willkommenskultur while managing to find humour in the horrors of both ISIS and the Holocaust: of course Noa (Orit Nahmias) thinks of concentration camps whenever she’s barefoot in her pyjamas.
On a stage dominated by a grey wall that snaps open to become a bright yellow staircase, simple A1 lessons lead to stories of dispossession, injustice and violence, told in a tangle of English, German, Hebrew and Arabic. Sympathetic German teacher Stefan (Dimitrij Schaad) unfailingly corrects his students’ grammar and vocabulary, but even he can’t fend off his growing exasperation.
Eventually, it emerges that Stefan has his own Migrationshintergrund: born in Kazakhstan (as was Schaad), he only perfected his language skills by watching hours of German TV. In a long and blistering monologue, Schaad recounts how he became a “masterwork of integration” – it’s one of the show’s highlights. Another one: Karim Daoud’s backflips.
What constitutes true integration? Is it possible to build unity on a mutual desire for escape? Can hummus be the glue that binds people together? Unsurprisingly, but also wisely, The Situation proposes no answers. But it does offer hope.
THE SITUATION Oct 8, 16, 19, 19:30 Maxim Gorki Theater, Am Festungsgraben 2, Mitte, S+U-Bhf Friedrichstr.