When Amir Peter performed his one-man antiwar play "Oasis" at the Teatronetto Festival in Jaffa, Israel, in 2019, he was "a rookie," Peter recalled.
The festival's main event is a contest for monodramas that is very competitive. "There were really big actors (participating)," Peter said.
"And we won. We were shocked by that. I'm still shocked when I talk about it," he said. "Oasis" won the festival's award for Best Show and has since been performed all over Israel. Peter has also picked up acting awards.
Now the play comes to the United States for its premiere here this month. There will be shows at the BorderLight International Theatre + Fringe Festival in Cleveland, Ohio, July 20 to 24.
"Oasis" came to Worcester for four performances July 28-31, 2022, at the BrickBox Theater at the Jean McDonough Arts Center, 20 Franklin St., presented by the Central Massachusetts Jewish Theatre Company.
"Oasis" was the first in-person live theater performance put on by the Central Massachusetts Jewish Theatre Company since it was founded by Hal Schneider just before the onset of the pandemic in 2020.
Meanwhile, the American shows was the first time that Peter has performed "Oasis" in English rather than his originally scripted Hebrew, he said during a recent Zoom interview from Israel that also included Schneider in Worcester.
Directed by Hen David with music by Itay Laor and translation by Adi Drori, "Oasis" is set in 1956 and focuses on a young Frenchman, Noel, an artist, who has to serve a mandatory tour in the French military in Algeria during Algeria's battle for independence.
Noel isn’t a pacifist, nor a communist, but at war in the Sahara Desert, far from his homeland, he faces profound moral dilemmas.
Back in Paris life had been good. He lived in Montmartre, sketched on the banks of the Seine, and fell in love. But at war, far from his homeland, does he make decisions that will give up any hope of returning to his life back in Paris? The play is billed as "the story of a man who has agreed to lose everything, so as not to lose himself."
"Oasis" is based on the true story of Noël Favrelière, who deserted from the French military while doing mandatory service in Algeria. Favrelière had been shocked by treatment of the Muslims by the French in a first term of service, and the situation became untenable for him during his second. He was subsequently sentenced to death by the French authorities and spent some time in the United States, where his sister lived. Favrelière wrote a book titled "Sunrise in the Desert" (also translated as "The Desert at Dawn").
Peter called the book a soldier's diary. "The book is very informative. (But) It is less emotionally involved than the play," Peter said. Peter's character Noel "is totally different," he said.
Peter said he first read "Sunrise in the Desert" when he was 19 and serving his mandatory term in the Israeli army. "It fascinated me and it terrified me," he said. "I come from a society where every 18-year-old-boy needs to go to the army."
At 28, Peter said he "wanted to write something anti-war and I was looking for something people in Israel here could listen to."
However, "In Israel they speak from the most guarded political view" regarding the domestic situation. "I said, 'OK, I know a story about a guy, maybe people could listen to that.'"
The Algerian War was long and violent with many twists including the OAS, a Far Right organization in France, rejecting any kind of compromise and conspiring to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle when it thought he would come to a settlement. France had colonized Algeria in the mid-19th century. Algeria became independent in 1962.
"It's about a war from 1956 not a lot of people in Israel know about," Peter said.
However, the themes of "Oasis" have resonated.
"Suddenly a young person does a show about it and the story works … As Hemingway said, 'A good story is a good story,'" Peter said.
"The first thought is war is a terrible, terrible thing," Peter said. "In war you always lose something. Sometimes it's only life itself … Always think as well of those who come back. Which are huge numbers. They always left something in the war. They never come back full. Something is empty in them."
Peter holds a BEd in Theatre and Theatre Directing from Kibbutzim College of Education. He has won several awards and scholarships, including competitions for dramatic writing, directing and performing original monologues. After his studies, he participated in a number of productions as an actor, and took part in various festivals, including Acco Festival of Alternative Israeli Theatre, Netanya Festival of Clowning, and Haifa International Children’s Theatre Festival.
He noted that three-and-a-half years after "Oasis" debuted, "audiences still are coming … People really like it. Usually the comments are very good."
Schneider saw an online performance of the play from Israel. "I really loved it. It was something I wanted to bring to the United States," he said.
He worked with Interplay Jewish Theatre in Cleveland to help have "Oasis" appear at the BorderLight Festival in Cleveland and then come to Worcester.
Regarding performing "Oasis" in English for the first time, Peter said, "In a weird way it's more natural. The story is about a French guy who finds himself in the United States. Of course I'm a little terrified, as you can imagine. Also, it's a bit refreshing to do it in English to give life to the work."
Schneider has said the goal of the Central Massachusetts Jewish Theatre Co. is "looking at universal truths through the lens of Jewish theater."
The nonprofit volunteer community theater company had hoped to stage its first production in Worcester in October 2020, but with the pandemic, it has been hosting online screenings, including several from theater companies in Israel. Schneider, who is originally from New York but a longtime Worcester resident, had a background that included television, video production and designing video and television facilities before his retirement, and most recently worked with 4th Wall Stage Co. doing sound and graphic design for its theater productions.
"Oasis" is a great way for the theater company to get underway in Worcester, Schneider said.
"Hopefully, finally having COVID behind us, we felt this would be a wonderful way to have Jewish-oriented theater in Massachusetts."
The Central Massachusetts Jewish Theatre Co. is looking to bring other productions in. "We want to make this a continuing thing," Schneider said.
'Oasis,' presented by Central Massachusetts Jewish Theatre Co.
When: 8 p.m. July 28 and 30, 2022, 3 p.m. July 29 and 31, 2022
Where: BrickBox Theater at the Jean McDonough Arts Center, 20 Franklin St., Worcester
How much: Adults $27.50; seniors (65+) $22.50; students $12.50. call