Even as a Hollywood vision of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict plays with much farce and caricature in Adam Sandler’s “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan,” a more serious and tragic look at the situation will grace the smaller stage at the Lillian Theater in Hollywood, with the West Coast premiere of playwright Misha Shulman’s “Desert Sunrise.”
The play opens in the south Hebron hills in the West Bank with Tsahi, an off-duty Israel Defense Forces soldier (Oren Dayan), pointing his gun at Ismail, a Palestinian shepherd (Dominic Rains). Having just broken up with his settler girlfriend, Tsahi is lost and seeking a way back to the main road. Ismail, waiting for his Muslim Palestinian girlfriend, Layla (Miriam Isa), is the only one who can help Tsahi find his way.
At first suspicious of one another, the foes gradually open up with both rhetoric and humor. Eventually, their shared love and distrust of women reveal their more human bond.
“A collision cracks open bias and fear so that they’re left with no choice but to experience each other in a purer state — stripped of their usual armor of politics, religion and even personal history,” director Ellen Shipley said during a rehearsal break. Shipley is best known for her work as a songwriter, having written Belinda Carlisle’s hit, “Heaven Is a Place on Earth,” among others.