"The Band's Visit" thrives in understated moments that build slowly up to colossal emotional payoffs.
Its characters stew in unfulfilled longings and grudging acceptance of their mundane day-to-day responsibilities. They are tormented by opportunities squandered and not only a lack of prospects, but uncertainty they would have the will to lunge after them should they come along again.
Sasson Gabay plays Tewfiq, the leader of a traveling Egyptian band set to play a gig in Israel.
Lost and baffled by cultural differences, the band stops to eat at a lonely diner overseen by Dina (Janet Dacal), who has a vague curiosity in the group that grows over time. Eventually, the bandmembers crash with the locals, comparing cultural and life notes in an improvised symphony.
Lithe and direct, the show cruises by at a brisk 90 minutes, with no intermission. Each of the 15 musical numbers are toe-tapping delights, with "Waiting," "Omar Sharif," "Something Different" and especially the post-bow concert powering through as show-stopping stunners that take the crowd by storm.
The musicality of the band members is as superb as their low-key acting, which breaks the live theater norm by saying more in empty spaces and mumbling than with grand gestures and enunciation.
Above all, the story and spirit of the show are about Dina's inner torment and whispered longings, punctuated with overpowering expressions of song and dance. Decal is up to the operatic challenge, belting out tunes with a fevered glory that mends hearts as it breaks them.
An offbeat, driven palate-cleanser, "The Band's Visit" is the polar opposite of the standards, and earns its place alongside them for its brave, genre-shattering methods. The lonely song of its soul is stark and true.
"The Band's Visit" plays through Feb. 27 at Centennial Hall. Purchase tickets here.