‘The Ally’ Review: Social Justice as a Maddening Hall of Mirrors

As this is a trial, let’s start with the facts. Asaf Sternheim, who teaches writing at a university a lot like Penn, is asked by a former student, Baron Prince, to endorse a manifesto. The manifesto seeks justice for Baron’s cousin, Deronte, who was killed by police officers while being stopped for a theft he had nothing to do with.

Also pertinent: Asaf (Josh Radnor) is a Jew, albeit the kind that subscribes, as he says, to the “acoustic-guitar-based variety” of Judaism. Baron (Elijah Jones) is Black, as was Deronte.

And one more thing: The 20-page manifesto, tying violence against Black Americans to violence against all subjugated populations, calls for “sanctions on the apartheid state of Israel,” adding that “failureto do so will leave the United States complicit in the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people.”

You could feel the “uh-oh” in the audience the night I saw “The Ally,” an important, maddening play by Itamar Moses that opened on Tuesday at the Public Theater.

Words like “apartheid” and “genocide,” when applied to Israel and Palestinians, are sure to rile lots of people. But challenging the use of those words will equally rile others. Smack in the middle is Asaf, whom the play proceeds to put through a tribal-political wringer that leaves him — and left me — a limp dishrag.

Whether you think that’s a good thing for a play to do may depend on your tolerance for endless, furious, yet familiar debate. There’s no question that Moses, whose biography as the Berkeley-raised son of Israeli immigrants is a close match for Asaf’s, knows the territory and its every skirmish intimately. It often seems that the arguments, on all sides, have been transcribed from personal experience or the news.

Related Articles

Back to top button