Benjamin Dewitt Sims and Maggie Birgel co-star in “Strait of Gibraltar” at Synchronicity Theatre. CONTRIBUTED BY JERRY SIEGEL PHOTOGRAPHY
Photo: For the AJC
Photo: For the AJC

Theater review: Synchronicity tackles topical ‘Strait of Gibraltar’

Miriam is a young Jewish woman with a high-level job at a Manhattan bank. Sameer is an undocumented Muslim immigrant from Morocco who works at a deli. They meet-cute at the party of a mutual friend, yet the central issue of Andrea Lepcio’s play “Strait of Gibraltar” isn’t merely a typical matter of opposites attracting, but rather a question about whether their love can truly survive and conquer all — even the Patriot Act.

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Their romance blossoms sweetly. She’s a Red Sox fan, he likes the Yankees, but they’re kissing “cousins” in no time. He makes her coffee, she knits him a sweater, and for a while, everything’s great. In artistic director Rachel May’s premiere of “Gibraltar” for Synchronicity Theatre, weeks or months pass in several nicely designed video montages by Amanda Sachtleben.

The bond between Miriam and Sameer grows deeper, intellectually as well as emotionally. They have literary conversations about “Moby Dick” and “Ulysses,” political discussions of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, or trade observations about religion or the extent to which the U.S. lives up to its perceived promise for foreign refugees. (The script is up to the minute, including a mention of the currently controversial travel ban.)

She shares with him the highly personal manuscript of her unpublished “historical fiction,” while he confides in her about his sister in Morocco and his plan to bring her to America. From there, things get complicated — involving Sameer’s dreams of starting his own cellphone business, Miriam’s decision to open a bank account for him (in her name), and the motivations behind both of their actions.

The first act of “Gibraltar” closes at the airport, as the couple waits to welcome the sister’s arrival, when aggressive government investigators suddenly shout out to them and detain them for questioning.

The second act starts with alternating interrogations of Miriam and Sameer, containing a lot of overlapping dialogue about money laundering and terrorism threats, and a very rude awakening about, among other dangerous extremes, the invasive surveillance techniques used to make (or make up) the case against them.

Kathleen Wattis (left) and Maggie Birgel appear in Synchronicity’s “Strait of Gibraltar.” CONTRIBUTED BY JERRY SIEGEL PHOTOGRAPHY
Photo: For the AJC

Co-starring in the Synchronicity production, Maggie Birgel and Benjamin Dewitt Sims run the gamut — from smitten lovers to hardened prisoners — with a calm and collected conviction that belies their relatively unproven resumes: She’s done some children’s theater at Horizon and Georgia Ensemble; he just finished the apprenticeship program with Aurora.

May’s supporting cast features Kathleen Wattis in a few scenes of ill-conceived comic relief as Miriam’s flighty, frantic mother. Rounding out the company are Suehyla El-Attar and Brian Ashton Smith in various roles (the detectives, the sister, a lawyer).

What begins as a leisurely paced romance, and methodically develops into something much more complex, feels slightly rushed in its overly abrupt resolution. In the process of packing several mindful and dramatic punches along the way, the star-crossed romance at the heart of “Gibraltar” seems to get sidetracked and shortchanged in all the commotion. When Miriam and Sameer finally reassert their love for each other at the end, it rings oddly unmoving.

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