On The Grill

Dobama Presents Powerful American Premiere of Dror Keren's On The Grill

Professional Equity House Theatre

by Kevin Kelly

In the playbill, Artistic Director Nathan Motta explains 'that he saw the original production of ON THE GRILL at the Cameri Theatre in Tel Aviv in 2016. After experiencing the play, he wanted our community in Cleveland to experience it as well. He found that his experiences as an American in Israel were encapsulated in the play. There were so many aspects of the show that seems so relevant to what is happening now in our country". It took three years, but the decision to produce the American Premiere, and share this story, turns out to be a brave and incredibly successful endeavor.

Everything is ready for the Israeli Independence Day party at the home of Rochale (Juliette Regnier*) and her husband Zvika (David Vegh*). The lawn has seen better days and so has the family. Their grown son Mordi (Andrew Gombas*) is home from Berlin for the holiday and he’s brought an unexpected guest, his girlfriend Johanna (Emily Viancourt+). Grandmother Gizela (Dorothy Silver) is frail and attended to by her newly hired Sri Lankan caretaker Raja (Arif Silverman*). As neighbors come to visit, such as Tirtza (Rocky Encalada+), whose son Gilad (Nicholas Chokan+) is on deployment, neighbor Avinoam (Michael Regnier), and an old flame Alona (Olivia Scicolone+), news broadcasts on the television keep everyone on edge. As smoke from the barbecue circles in the air, fighter jets circle in the sky. And as food is passed, drinks poured, and the good old songs were sung, conflicts are reignited that cannot be ignored.  

The arc of this play is sublime. It starts out like any other grill out. This one just like us, celebrating Independence Day. Issues that are slowly introduced into the story of these characters are not far removed from the high stakes that permeate our country at this time. Within in the first moments of the play, we are introduced to the words "immigrant" and "border". I know for myself, those words were triggers. The story continues as it slowly brings you in the conversation as an observer, but emotionally you are triggered by the issues they address about war, and division, and how the self-sacrifice of those who join the fight, affect everyone without much choice.

Everyone is this cast kicks ass.

Gombas turns in a remarkable performance. His arc is heartbreaking to watch on so many levels, and he delivers on every emotion. Entering the party, he is able to slowly unveil his damaged soul and physical well-being. We watch as different triggers begin to tear away his smile. Whether it be overhead jets, distance bombs, family tension or regrets, or prescribed equalizers, Gombas reacts viscerally and emotionally connects with all of us. This enables the audience to feel like they are moving closer to the stage as a quiet observer, and closer to an emotional electrical tower of damaged humanity. I am such a huge fan of this and all your work.

As the parents of Mordi, Vegh and Juliette Regnier are perfect. Together they traverse the grill out like season veterans of entertaining. We find in both of them the strength that lies within many couples who face reality with unrelenting positivity, and the will to live. That is how societies sustain their relevance. They do it with subtle strength. Vegh is the father we might all want. I personally could see some bowling in the future, along with a shot and a beer. He created a father that is so down to earth, able to believe without generous helpings of loud justification. And most of all, the devout love of family. Those qualities are honed and become so important to some incredible moments in the play. Ms. Regnier is a force to be both enjoyed and reckoned with. What a powerful pitch-perfect performance. She is the protector of intention and family. She creates a neighbor and mother you want to visit by ensuring a welcome and safe place. In one of the strongest moments of the play, she delivers a speech that is an anthem of a father's love, which literally shifts the energy of the evening to demand that you are emotionally alert. Oh my, it is powerful and truthful. My tear ducts also became alert. I wished my father was alive so I could hug him. We children do have problems, and sometimes we forget our parents are affected just as much as we are. Sometimes they just have to wait, until someone brings us into focus. Ms. Regnier, you are magic.

As the story unfolds, we have two love interests that bring their own superior touch to their roles. Viancourt, as the beautiful German girlfriend, is strongly effective throughout. The play requires a quieter presence, but, not an unimportant one. She is associated with a country of damaged repute, she is the new girlfriend coming to meet the family for the first time, she ends up meeting the ex, and she ends up patiently holding fast by her boyfriends' side without fear, in a less than normal situation. This is done with a polished performance. Quiet strength and resolve are beautiful characteristics, and in this case, strongly executed. Scicolone comes into the scene with an outgoing air. She handles the new of meeting the new girlfriend with relished restraint and does a fantastic job of maneuvering among some conflicting emotions. I really enjoyed how she managed to find that line of reacting to a family that once was, still connected, but also riding that awkward ex-thing. Her face was a creative palate of very good character intention. Both ladies held their cards close to their hearts while eyeing the pot in the middle of the table, or should I say, backyard.

Michael Regnier offered much to the evening's pace and enjoyment. He is the neighbor that is essential to every occasion. Adding mirth when necessary, and also, asking the questions that either lead a conversation or cause others to move on quickly. His gift to the evening was the connection to those around him with his adept character choices that seemed to show he exists in real life, not just an armchair character for mechanical artistic reasons. Encalada and Chokan give this play an aching reality, heartwarming reunion, and a conclusion that seems it will never have a defined ending. Encalada gives us a worried and scared mother having to deal with one of the worst realities of war. Having your son or daughter choose to defend your country is a noble act, but to be a mother or father watch your child leave to an uncertain fate is unbearable for some. She gives Tirtza a groundedness that is so effective. We can feel how awaiting word on a loved one becomes a parallel universe that your conscious body and mind are forced to live in. She nails it. Chokan is charming as hell as he enters the fray. Emotions run high, and for some wonderful moments, what surrounds or fly over the gathering is lost in happiness. His interactions with everyone is a delight, whether it being over loved by mama, making other people feel better, or reconnecting with old friends. He also can deliver reality with a professional precision. Allowing us to see the character and the important realities that are at stake. Great stuff.

Silver gives Gizela the honor and pride she deserves by surviving. From the Holocaust to Israel. Her monologues that open and close the show, are gentle stories and thoughts that open up the envelope of this play, and then gently close the envelope at the end. Done with such care. Her interactions with the family are centering, and through adept acting choices, have the power to bring the heat down to at least a simmer. She situation allows us to recognize families taking care of their elderly parents. Silver is divine. Silverman gives Raja a charm and wit that helps keep things lighter. His devotion to Gizela is palatable, and when he puts down his foot about what is good or not to keep her healthy, we see the undercarriage of his protective. will. He is fun, caring, and also, he gets a chance to remind everyone that skin tone doesn't dictate "approximately" where you live. When you think of it, some people care more about what valley their wine comes from, then what country an individual comes from.

There are so many themes that permeate this piece. I can tell you that the trigger words "border", "immigrant", and the discussion of military conflicts, are still with me. What we saw, what we felt, and what we were left with, are the result of two mega influences. Playwright Keren has written and delivered an emotional punch to our realities. A geographical olive branch to our own pain. Letting us know that we are not alone. While we bring to the surface these painful realities through theatre, those words can inspire change and empowerment. Thank you for sharing this story. It's a damn good play.

Then we come to Director Leighann Delorenzo. This production guided by her hand and vision, that includes collaboration with the technical artists, the producing elements, the numerous translations to make the words work in English, and finally, the transference to the actors. And with that process and collaboration produces a stunning result. The pace is perfect. The characters developed to be alive and relatable. With your direction, you have proved that American audiences will be able to understand, be triggered by, and find compassion and passion in this work. BRAVO!

Scenic Designer Laura Carlson Tarantowski showed up again with her professional touch. Lighting Designer Marcus Dana served up great looks, and car lights that actually looked like the car turned around. Sound Designer Jeremy Dobbins did an exemplary job. The overhead jets and distant bombings were far too real. Costume Designer Inda Blatch-Geib brought her A game, and the looks were all on point. Technical Director Kirsten Nicole brought all the elements together with professionalism. Stage Manager Jenna A Fink called a great show. 

Cleveland Stage Alliance

*Member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
+Equity Membership Candidate
Ticket Information
and Promotional Materials

Through July 8


7:30 pm Thursdays
8 pm Fridays
8 pm Saturdays
2:30 pm Sundays 

Run time: 90m (no intermission)
Content Advisory: Adult Themes, Adult Language

$29-$32 Reserved Seating

(216) 932-3396
Order Tickets Online

Dobama Theatre
2340 Lee Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118