Beat-box performer puts similar Arab, Israeli lives on stage

It’s a good time for cynics out there. More often than not, Palestinian and Israeli coexistence shows scream peacenik sugar-cake idealism, and right now there are a lot of them heading our way. With acts such as “The Land Twice Promised” and “Keeping the Hope Alive,” cultural dialogue pieces aimed at building coexistence between warring cultures and countries are big right now. And that’s not such a bad thing.

Neither is “From Tel Aviv to Ramallah,” a one-man human beat-box performance now showing at Spanganga’s. The venue is not what typical theatergoers might call “comfortable.” In fact, it’s less a theater than a tight room off to the side of a minimalist photo gallery in the Mission. At 30 people, “From Tel Aviv to Ramallah” plays to a full house.

Ideally, Yuri Lane’s one-man performance piece, created with his wife, writer Rachel Havrelock, would be in bigger venues, seen by hundreds each night of its San Francisco stint.

Cynics be warned: “From Tel Aviv to Ramallah” is potentially your worst nightmare, thanks to its innovative and fresh delivery through an exciting musical media that resembles an a cappella version of electronica techno.

Billed as a hip-hop travelogue of peace, “From Tel Aviv to Ramallah’s” vox-pop opus profiles the Palestinian and Israeli perspectives.

The story centers on the lives of two young men, Khalid and Amir, a Palestinian and an Israeli respectively, and their fateful intersection at a West Bank checkpoint. It’s built in a soliloquy fashion, much in the style of Spike Lee’s 1991 film “Do The Right Thing,” in which characters espouse peace while testifying to the seemingly impossible obstacles standing in its way.

Amir is a fun-loving DJ and delivery boy; Khalid is a fun-loving owner of an Internet cafe. Though separated by countries and cultures, both spend their days and nights searching out the next rave party, smoking dope, sucking the hookah, trolling for girls, dancing with cell phones to their ears and, at the end of the night, going home to their mothers. They are also similarly joined by a culture of fear that eventually propels them to the forefront of the Middle East conflict.

The story comes dangerously close to being upstaged by the hip-hop performance. Lane, 31, is able to pull off an impressive and ultimately rewarding feat, producing multileveled beats and sounds that correspond to more than a dozen individual characters, as well as whizzing traffic, busy market places, discos and sun-washed beaches. He manufactures sound with his tongue, his nasal passages, his throat, his lips and his chest that at best crescendo into a pop symphony as effective as the most successful rock opera.

With a black chair on each side and a blank white projection screen behind him on which corresponding images flash and help establish setting, Lane portrays characters who weave what is by now a familiar and frustrating story straddling the West Bank and Israel.

“From Tel Aviv to Ramallah” shows divisions that aren’t really there, starting with Lane’s decision to perform stage left when he is in Israel and stage right when he is in the West Bank. Dressed in an unassuming T-shirt, cargo pants, workout wristbands and a handless microphone cradled from his right ear to his mouth, he convinces his audience to see an invisible barrier and then proceeds to break it down by mirroring similar lives on either side of this false division.

As a performer, Lane is able to leap border crossings and checkpoints with simple voice-created record scratches and beat-box scene changes. In reality, Lane knows as well as we all do that making the kind of leap between idealism and reality is far trickier.

“From Tel Aviv to Ramallah’s” strongest gems are scenes about families and friends — all achieved masterfully by Lane — and at points when the show takes a dark turn, focusing on strangled lifestyles within the occupied territories and life under the threat of terrorism.

Its darkest moments are disturbing. Lodged in Khalid’s West Bank Internet cafe, a group of Palestinian boys plays a fictional computer game called “Intifada 2.” In it, the game player takes on the identity of a suicide bomber. A player’s mission: Strap on an explosive belt, scale walls, assonate border patrol guards, blend in with crowds, casually walk into an Israeli club and detonate yourself. Bodies fly one by one to the sound of the Palestinian game, players cheering, “Yes, we win!”

The scene is by far the most powerful in the hour-plus show and is, simultaneously, where the show falters a beat. While “From Tel Aviv to Ramallah” ultimately succeeds in portraying atrocities perpetrated by both sides, the scene is so horrific that it effectively trumps any brief mention of Israeli soldiers bulldozing a West Bank house or arresting Palestinian family members. Not to mention a scene in which they ransack Khalid’s cafe in a search of terrorist instigators. If there had been a single Palestinian voice of opposition to the game, the scales would have tipped a bit back toward center.

Then again, the reality of the situation is such that life is not always balanced and neither, unfortunately, is the show.

Regardless, “From Tel Aviv to Ramallah” has its heart in the right place. Ideally, coexistence plays would sell out Carnegie Hall and Pac Bell Park, and the cynics would buy front-row seats.

In reality, with shows such as this, they just might.