Do you want to see a winner? Go see Tamaya Productions’ Checkpoint 300 written and directed by Michelle Wise, this year’s winner of the Fringe’s First Play Competition. It is indeed very well-crafted and it continuously surprises us with unexpected facts and plot twists. I will not go into details, no need for spoiler alerts.
The story was inspired by the playwright’s first-hand experiences serving in the Israeli Defence Force twenty years ago. The main characters are an Israeli family and a Palestinian one who live on opposite sides of the Israel-Palestine border.
They must cross the border to go to work or to the hospital. Every time, they are inspected by Israeli soldiers. Imagine having to go through that at a subway stop in Toronto! The set (Chandos Ross) highlights this unusual situation.
On each side of the stage, there are tables and chairs that suggest similar living rooms. The checkpoint is in the middle, physically and symbolically separating the two families with a frightening razor wire fence, a STOP sign, and a trilingual billboard: “Stop for inspection.”
Checkpoint 300 recounts a fictional but possible tragic border incident without becoming a history lesson. It does not take sides in a long-term and difficult political conflict. Its characters are not criminal and innocents, but just people who try to do their best for their families and their countries.
Wise reminds us that such tragedies could happen to our daughters and sons. Suzana, a friend who joined me for the show, appreciated its real life feeling. She noted that Israeli soldier Shiri (Lizette Mynhardt) and Palestinian journalist Amelie (Brittany Cope) fight for their freedom of choice, like most teenagers.
I was also impressed by Shiri and Amelie’s determination to be “the first woman” in positions traditionally considered male. Both are faced with difficult choices and family tragedies. Both search for the truth and for ways to accept it.
Mynhardt and Cope carry the difficult characters well, from rebellious teenagers to guilt-torn adults. They confront each other only to discover they share similar values and dreams. I saw the first show and I expect they will gain more confidence and depth in the next ones.
Shay (Ori Black), the Israeli border commander, and Walid (Amir Hossein Ezatollah Pour), the Palestinian teenager, are also portrayed like possible friends. When they talk about sports, for example, the political border between them disappears. The soldier’s infatuation with Shiri is touching and Walid’s teenage attitude stirs laughter.
Playing dual roles, Jorie Morrow and Geoff Mays are excellent at portraying the same kind of loving parents despite their ethnic and cultural differences. The costume elements, such as a pair of glasses and a Palestinian black-and-white checkered scarf (a keffiyeh), also helped the audience distinguish between the characters.
My only disappointment was the scene of the tragic incident. It just did not have any emotional impact on me. Also, the soldiers’ rifles are made of wire, resembling children’s toys, and this does not help with the suspension of disbelief.
Suzana, my friend, missed some music that could have increased the scene’s tension and heard only one gunshot instead of two. Personally, I recalled that classical playwrights used to keep violent deaths off stage and leave them to the audience’s imagination.
In the program, Wise talks about how people from various countries peacefully live together in Canada. She wishes for the same in the Middle East.
As I was getting off the Queen streetcar, I noticed for the first time the thoughtful announcement: “Look right for traffic.” No one was there to “inspect” me. Maybe if you see Checkpoint 300 you will also notice things you have taken for granted.
- Checkpoint 300 plays at the Factory Theatre Mainspace. (125 Bathurst St.)
- Tickets are $13, including a $2 service charge. The festival also offers a range of money-saving passes and discounts for serious Fringers.
- Tickets can be purchased online, by telephone (416-966-1062), from the Festival Box Office at Scadding Court (275 Bathurst St.), and — if any remain — from the venue’s box office starting one hour before curtain.
- Content Warning: gunshots.
- This venue is wheelchair-accessible through a secondary route.
- Be aware that Fringe performances always start exactly on time, and that latecomers are never admitted.
- The Toronto Fringe Festival is scent-free: please do not wear perfumes, colognes, or other strongly-scented products.
- Wednesday July 3rd, 6:30 pm
- Friday July 5th, 2:30 pm
- Sunday July 7th, 2:45 pm
- Monday July 8th, 5:15 pm
- Thursday July 11th, 8:45 pm
- Saturday July 13th, 10:15 pm
- Sunday July 14th, 4:00 pm
The show is suitable for all ages; it includes gun shots.
Photo of Liz Mynhardt and Brittany Cope by Adrianna Prosser