Early on in The Band’s Visit, there’s brief discussion about how there are two different kinds of waiting — the waiting for something you greatly anticipate and the waiting for something to occur. It sets the stage for the moving moments that take place thereafter, with two distinct and different groups of people coming together. It’s a sentiment that resonates for the audience, confronted by an unexpected play unlike anything they’ve seen before.
Due to an honest mixup, a group of Egyptian musicians must make the most of one night in a remote Israeli town. There really isn’t much happening there, as they discover, and they must politely and gently make the most of the strange situation. It’s a simple plot, but the characters come alive through the music, created by David Yazbek. The script, courtesy of Itamar Moses, has everyone sullen and soft-spoken, which leaves plenty of space for Yazbek to roam.
Scott Pask’s set design must have been a major project to imagine and to endure. But it pays off in big ways. The revolving set gives you a fair impression of what life is like is you feel you’re running in circles, unable to course-correct. Even from the way the scenery moves, sitting there waiting for something to happen, you get a good sense of what it’s like to live that way each and every day.
With deft direction from David Cromer, this inspired and ambitious show has you feeling for the characters in an emotional way you might not have expected. That’s largely thanks to the acting of Katrina Lenk and Tony Shalhoub, who lead the cast through demonstrating how to show more with less material. That’s where the waiting comes in. With one set of people waiting for the sun to come up so they can leave and never look back, the others will be forever impacted by the methods and messages of the newcomers. The townies are each in their own way waiting for someone to scoop them up and take them away. To show them a different, better life. To some degree, the night we witness could be damaging longterm to the locals. It’s left to your imagination.