By Kimberly Rau
The Tony Award-winning The Band’s Visit, directed by David Cromer, is in town for just a few shows through Sunday, and this national tour kickoff is worth making time for if you possibly can.
The set is fantastic, the voices are incredible, and the plot is simple.
An Egyptian police band is scheduled to play at an Israeli Arabic Cultural Center, but a language barrier and a mix up at the bus station instead sends the small group of men to the back of beyond, to a tiny town where the main highlights seem to be a café, dive bar, roller rink, and all the desert you could ever want. There’s not much going on, and the arrival of a few uniformed men with instruments doesn’t change that very much. The biggest local attraction might just be the teenaged kid standing watch outside the phone booth, hoping tonight’s the night his girl calls back. But during the one night the band is in town, we get a glimpse into the very ordinary lives of both the Israelis and the Egyptians.
There’s Tewfiq, the band leader who is struggling with a lot of emotional baggage after losing his family, played incredibly well by Sasson Gabay, an Israeli actor who is reprising his Broadway role for the tour. Gabay’s stage presence and voice will haunt you. He ends up staying with Dina, a former dancer who had big dreams that were slowly crushed by reality. Actress Chilina Kennedy takes on the role and infuses it with so much power and grace that you can’t stop watching her. Kennedy and Gabay are amazing together, which makes the reality of their characters’ situations all the more frustrating. They could save each other, with a little more time, but of course, that’s the one thing they don’t have. For one local couple in the small town, time is all they have, and they’re constantly butting up against what feels like a life sentence, exacerbated by the strain of a new baby and their frustrations with each other. There’s the band member who knows he’s going home to an arranged marriage and the Israeli who can’t seem to get out of his own way long enough to talk to women. Everyone is realistic, flawed, and deeply sympathetic, and the cast playing the roles is equally incredible. When the band plays together, it’s enough to bring you to your feet and make you want to start dancing.
This isn’t a big show, or even a small show with a huge message. No one’s life is forever changed from that evening. The sand, the cafe, the phone booth still remain. So do the Arab–Israeli tensions that aren’t a focus of the plot but of course are there, as constant as the desert outside the apartments. But it’s sweet, funny, heartwarming, and has some of the best music to hit a Broadway stage in years. If you have time this weekend, go.
The Band’s Visit has multiple shows through Sunday, June 30, at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence. Tickets may be obtained at the box office, online at PPACri.org, or by calling 401.421.2787.