“Arab-Israeli Cookbook” Explores Middle Eastern Conflict in New Ways

The Theater Department held a reading of Robin Soans’s food-themed play “Arab-Israeli Cookbook” this past weekend, highlighting the issues of the Arab-Israeli conflict using theatrical methods. The play, which is based on real-life interviews, focuses on different characters’ first-hand experiences as residents of the Israeli West Bank or the Palestinian Gaza. Since the play is based entirely on interviews, the dialogue in “Arab-Israeli Cookbook” are actual quotes about real-life events, instead of lines inspired from them. While the Arab-Israeli Conflict has been discussed fervently in the context of politics, “Arab-Israeli Cookbook” captures the issues present in the conflict using an unusual common theme: food. By using a topic as lighthearted as food to contrast the region’s high-tension conflicts, the play manages to deliver a message of commonality and humanity. “The play uses food as a unifying theme. It shares timeless recipes, like a cookbook would, to illustrate how the Palestinians and the Israelis have so much in common. By focusing on the food, Soans forces the audience past the stereotypes into the actual people,” said Allen Grimm, Instructor in Theater and producer of the play reading. “These are the people who make the hummus and falafel, raise the cattle, own the cafes and restaurants, giving voice to a scared, but hopeful community in a nation at the crossroads,” he added. Among the nine characters featured in the play is Rena, an American-born widow played by Emma Kukielski ’15. The character’s resolution to keep making the trek up to a place called Cafe Hillel, despite travel warnings, perfectly reflects her strong-willed nature. In one of her monologues, Rena explains that in order for people to overcome fear of danger, people need to continue to move on in their daily lives. As strong-willed as Rena, the character played by Rocco Amoroso ’16 is a bus driver who is resolute on driving the most dangerous bus route, disregarding many of his friends’ warnings and concerns. He describes the horror he witnessed when he saw his friend’s bus explode before his eyes due to a suicide bomber who boarded the first bus to arrive at the bus stop. “The bus driver character I portrayed was a very good role model. He was brave and humble. He denied being a hero, even while taking on the most dangerous route,” said Amorosso. “The bus driver attempts to do the right thing no matter the potential cost to his family. He sees the Arabs as integral to the community — as part of the potential future. In his monologue, it is food, the sandwiches, that his wife makes that bring us into his story. . . his routine. . . his life,” said Grimm. “The play reading process was a lot different than anything I’ve ever done before. I’ve only done a couple of plays, but in those, all the lines are memorized. With a reading, you only have a general idea of the next line. This makes the readings much more spontaneous. I believe the on-the spot expression of emotion really helps you become the character,” said Amoroso. Theodore Perez ’16, an audience member, said “I thought [the play] was very interesting. Obviously, it employed a lot of different stories within the whole conflict and way of life that goes on there. It gave perspectives from different sides, but you could still see how markedly similarly they all are.”