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The Ally



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Josh Radnor (Photo: Joan Marcus)


The Ally


By Julia Polinsky


Itamar Moses' new play at The Public, The Ally, offers some superb, heart-rending performances, excellent writing, and relentless consideration of arguably the most controversial flashpoints in politics today: Israel/Palestine, race relations, white privilege among them. But is it a handsomely mounted, beautifully produced play, or a nicely disguised lecture?

At one point, in the first act, a character says, "I mean you're allowed to... think -" You can understand that as the whole point of The Ally. You're allowed to think. Allowed? No; you *must* think, carefully and at length, about your opinions, and then see what happens when you stand by them.

That can be troublesome. Paralyzing. No matter how much talk helps you through all that thinking - and there's a lot of talk in the 2 ½ hours of The Ally - you must live with the consequences of your thought. Think some more; talk some more; decide nothing. Or do something, even something as small as sign a manifesto, and pay the price.

The upside of putting all that talk on stage: the audience is prompted to do some thinking of its own. The downside? Not much happens, and theater is a space where something happens.

In September/Early October 2023, at an American university in a small city, in a neighborhood adjacent to many poor people of color, a local Black man is killed by cops. Asaf (Josh Radnor), an adjunct professor of writing, is asked to sign a manifesto in the wake of that killing.

The document, all 20 pages it, was written largely by Nakia (Cherise Boothe) Asaf's ex-girlfriend and a community organizer, and brought to Asaf by his student, Baron (Elijah Jones), whose cousin is the victim of that police violence.

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Elijah Jones (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The manifesto supports several important social justice causes. Asaf, a card-carrying liberal of long standing and a lapsed Jew of Israeli heritage, agrees with 99% of the document, but has an issue with the manifesto - some inflammatory language that can be read as singling out and demonizing Israel. Asaf waffles, but signs.

Then, two students, one Palestinian, one Jewish, approach Asaf and request that he sponsor a new campus organization embracing both perspectives. They see Asaf as an ally, as he has signed the manifesto, so they explain that they want to have a controversial speaker come to campus, one who has been seen as an anti-Semite, calling for the destruction of the state of Israel. Except he isn't, and hasn't, or has he? Who decides? Is there free speech on campus, or isn't there?

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Michael Khalid Karadasheh, Madeline Weinstein (Photo: Joan Marcus)


For the rest of The Ally, the author's superb wordsmithing touches on many current hot button political issues. Moses' gorgeous language, in monologue after monologue delivered by the excellent cast, expresses rage, confusion, aggression: a range of the hard thoughts. They rant about Israel, Palestine, haves and have-nots, race relations in America, DEI, relationships, poverty, Jewish politics... Provocation after provocation, aggressive talk from more than one side of an issue.


As directed by Lila Neugebauer, the cast does a splendid job of physically manifesting the paralysis of analysis. Asaf's tight, raised shoulders and inexpressive body paint a portrait of someone whose spirit is so wounded, he can't move. Nakia, the Black community organizer who is among the most passionate characters on stage, or Baron: they are wooden, careful, contained. The jejune and self-righteous Jewish activist student, Rachel (Madeline Weinstein); the aggressive Reuven (Ben Rosenfield), equally self-righteous, activist, and Jewish; even the fierce Farid (Michael Khalid Karadasheh), the Palestinian activist student: they stand on the stage delivering their impassioned speeches, as if it's all they can do not to throw a punch.

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Josh Radnor, Madeline Weinstein, Cherise Boothe, Michael Khalid Karadasheh (Photo: Joan Marcus)

Within The Ally, we encounter talk and thought, and care, and controversy, and anything but complacency. It's a raw and provocative, tough, maybe important night of theater, grappling with big questions.


The Ally

At the Public Theater

425 Lafayette St. at Astor Place

Running time: 2 ½ hours, one intermission