Last Friday we attended a workshop presentation of Damascus Square, a new musical co-written by Shai Baitel, Oran Eldor, and Sarah Hirsch, at 54 Below in midtown Manhattan. While the play still has a few rough patches to be ironed out (which is, of course, the reason for doing a workshop production in the first place), even at this early stage, we found this work in progress to be very promising - both stimulating and entertaining, with a strong book, a delightful score and clever lyrics. A full-scale staging of the musical is expected sometime next year and we’re very much looking forward to it.
The musical is based on the story of Eli Cohen (herein played by Richard Blake), the Israeli Mossad agent who infiltrated the highest echelons of the Syrian Government in the 1960s and whose actions are generally credited with having played a major part in Israel’s subsequent overwhelming success in the Six Days War. In this re-telling, Cohen is revealed not only as one of the most heroic of Israeli patriots in that nation’s history but also as a much more complex man whose divided (and, at times, misguided) personal loyalties may have driven him in unexpected directions (somewhat reminiscent of Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson’s behavior in the classic film The Bridge on the River Kwai). It is an intriguing and provocative concept and one that is intelligently and effectively explored in this production by a first-rate cast including, in addition to Blake, Tovah Feldshuh as Tamara Sharon, the head of Mossad; Bradley Dean as Amin al-Hafez, the Ba’ath Party leader befriended by Cohen; Natalie Charle Ellis as Nadia Cohen, Ed Cohen’s wife; and Etai Benshlomo as Majid, the innocent intermediary who unknowingly facilitates Cohen’s undercover exploits.