Anna Ziegler’s Dov and Ali centers on a series of conversations between Dov (Adam Green), a Jewish high school teacher, and Ali (Utkarsh Ambudkar), his Muslim student. It’s not as bad as the contrived setup sounds, nor as good as it might be.
In their opening after-class conversation, Ali advances strong ideas about his teacher’s approach to life: He accuses Dov of (Jewish) cowardice and (Jewish) indecision. His professional composure eroded, Dov retorts that Ali is close-minded and cold—a proto-fundamentalist. The next 80 minutes of the piece show they might both be right. In between these talks, Dov manages to break up with his beautiful shikse girlfriend Sonya (Heidi Armbruster) rather than reveal her to his Orthodox father. Ali, meanwhile, has his own daddy problems: Having ratted on his sister Sameh (Anitha Gandhi) when she went to a dance, he’s now haunted by guilt over her resulting banishment to Pakistan. The more messed up Dov’a and Ali’s lives get, the more intense their talks become—by the end, they’ve both unbuttoned their shirts.
While the dialogue is nicely handled and the scenes well directed by Katherine Kovner, it’s unclear what Ziegler is driving at. Regarding the glaring issues of religious and gender conflict, Dov and Ali rarely ventures beyond the basics. Which leaves us with Dov and Ali, an unbelievable pair to begin with—why would a smart kid so concern himself with this flailing man? The parallel father-son conflicts maybe give a theoretical basis to the relationship (Ali’s attacks on Dov are actually pleas for help!), but the actors are never able to take away the play’s air of arbitrariness. When Ali finishes his last talk with Dov and escapes to MIT, we can’t help but feel—very little at all.