The Arab/Israeli Comedy Hour | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Arab/Israeli Comedy Hour 

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The Arab/Israeli Comedy Hour, ImprovOlympic. Comedy is no substitute for social work or a UN Security Council session: it can't heal wounds, tear down walls, pay debts, or eliminate tensions. Comedy's lone miracle is granting a simple human perspective; its transformative power lies in making us feel better by understanding why we feel so bad. The Arab/Israeli Comedy Hour is like a self-help group for victims of stalled peace efforts and embedded media. It sticks close to the heart, and its performers are extraordinarily likable: former Northwestern students Hassan Arawas (a Kuwaiti born to Lebanese parents) and Roni Geva (an Israeli native) attempt to vault over the usual lies and statistics in this brisk overview of the Middle East conflict.

At its best, the evening gets lost in unfettered imagination. Closing the show is an enchanting 15-minute parody of West Side Story--rechristened "West Bank Story"--that promotes the sort of understanding of Middle East tensions that doesn't come across when the performers cling to a feel-good, indeterminately ethnic My Big Fat Greek Wedding model. Writer-director Aaron Freeman's efforts are palpable, but the writing never equals the pair's generous performances. And since the show is cut short at less than an hour, there's barely enough time for a little spiritual healing at the expense of Saddam, Sharon, and Arafat before the bombs start to drop.

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