“At Night’s End” — written by Visiting Israeli Scholar Motti Lerner and directed by Professor of Theatre Neil Blackadder — is not a nice play.
The play, which runs Oct. 31-Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m. in Harbach Theatre, is not a play that was written to amuse you over the course of its hour-and-a-half run, leaving you with a smile and a laugh. It will not console you as you go to sleep that night, and it will not tell you pretty half-truths to make you feel better.
In the play, Lerner examines the psychological scars left by war on a small family as they weather the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. It takes place over the course of a single night, and by the night’s end, the seemingly successful family is shot to pieces.
The play centers around an upper middle class family as they gather for their middle son (senior Steve Selwa), Gadi’s marriage. The oldest brother, Doron (freshman Morgan Jellison), who has been living in New York for the last five years, has just returned for the occasion. Their youngest son, Roee (freshman Micah Snow-Cobb), who is currently serving in the military, also comes home on leave for the occasion.
As missiles drop around the family, new and old wounds inflicted by their service rise to the surface. Although Doron, Gadi, Roee and their father, Avner (junior Jacob Schneider), all express their brokenness differently, each one has a fundamental inability to communicate.
The women of the play — Avner’s wife Dalia (senior Rose Dolezal), Gadi’s fiancé Einat (junior Mya Kahler) and Roee’s girlfriend Shelly (freshman Emma Frey) — want to understand what broke the men, but the men cannot figure out what should and can be told, or if they want to talk about it at all. The men all try to help each other, but even with their shared experience, they are still unable to help each other with their pain.
Knox’s production of the play is compelling. The actors each take to their roles with gusto, sliding into the skins of their characters. The set, an abstracted take on a house, serves the movement of the play by keeping the actors together but separate.
Lerner knows that war is not triumphant, life is not clean and not everything can be wrapped up in 90 minutes. His characters are realistic and compelling.
The play, though, is not without its flaws. The play’s characters are on edge from the beginning and it stays that way throughout. Although tensions rise, this almost constant berating pressure becomes exhausting. The real weight of the family’s breakdown is harder to appreciate when the family has been obviously cracking from the very beginning.
This imbalance of tension is only hurt by the end of the play. This constant mounting of tension does not end with any sort of conclusion. Instead, it ends abruptly — so abruptly that the audience is not sure they should clap until they realize that the lights just went down for the last time.
It is possible that that is the point, that Lerner wanted to leave his audience uneasy. This, though, comes off as lazy or possibly just inadequate. After an hour and a half of oppressive conflict, Lerner’s condemnation of war needs a period.