“Once not long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.” The opening line of the Tony Award-winning musical The Band’s Visit, serving as a tantalizing undersell of the beautiful story ready to unfold— a story reminiscent of life as we know it right now.
For those who haven’t had the honor of experiencing this production, The Band’s Visit is just that. It is a heart-achingly simple depiction of an Egyptian Ceremonial Police Orchestra becoming stranded for one night in a small town in the Negev desert. The locals take them in, show them hospitality, and then (spoiler alert), the next day the musicians leave as scheduled.
Near the start of the show, we hear from the residents of that small town in a song called Waiting. The people of Bet Hatikva feel trapped by the the stagnant nature of their isolated, desert town. They have clearly accepted this as their way of life, and yet they cannot help but find themselves weary of it, too. Every day they interact with the same people, visit the same places— days blurring together over time. Of course, they can’t help but be wistful that one day there might just be something more— something different.
Does that sound a bit familiar these days?
My friends, this is officially the song (and production) of our time. While the characters weren’t actively fending off a pandemic, it’s easy to hear some similarities in the humdrum of these Israeli’s passing the time, and us doing the same today. The lyric, “This sofa is a boat and I’m just drifting right along”, is a sentiment that we all relate to at some level. Waiting puts a melody to this madness.
Later, Israeli Café owner Dina opens up to Egyptian Colonel Tewfiq in a song called Omar Sharif. This song is Dina’s way of showing this strange visitor that they have something in common— their affinity for the same Egyptian actor, Omar Sharif, and singer, Umm Kulthum. While simplistic on the surface, this song teaches us that we can learn to experience magic in the things we do at home. Dina enchants us with colorful imagery about how it feels to be engrossed in the work of this actor and singer;
“and the living room becomes a garden, and the TV set becomes a fountain…”.
If we fully embrace the art that brings us together, everyday things have the potential to become extraordinary.
Throughout the production, the quiet lives of the Israelis compel them to grapple with some truly raw emotions. They have time and space for their minds to wander, which is far from easy. When the Israelis grew more comfortable with the musicians, they slowly began sharing their tales of loneliness, fear, love, and longing. They were amazed to learn that the Egyptians knew those feelings, too. They shouldered one another’s’ sorrows and joys, and suddenly, Bet Hatikva didn’t feel so small to anyone.
With so much out of our control, it feels natural to focus inward — filling our space and time with the innermost wearings on our hearts, no matter how inconsequential they may seem. Some days that could simply feel like boredom or restlessness, and other days like worry or anxiety. What The Band’s Visit shows us is that we don’t have to feel these things alone. We make our small world a bit bigger by allowing ourselves to let others in (though not literally, of course).
The Band’s Visit models how to practice vulnerability and care, and teaches us how much good it can do for ourselves and others. This production is far from flashy. If you’re not paying close attention, you might assume that nothing monumental really happens. But humanity exists in the details of this story. I say we give this a try. Then somehow, amidst the mundane nature of our day-by-day existence, we could see all the beauty that humanity has to offer.
About the author: Marlee Ribnick is a writer and communicator who will dive headfirst into challenging conversations. Passionate about political discourse, with experience driving change in the nonprofit sector, Marlee believes in the power of prose to shape the course of history. When she’s not fighting for the little guy, Marlee is rooting for the Missouri Tigers and volunteering as a nationally appointed consultant for Sigma Kappa.
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