The Playgoer: Palestinian Plays at NYTW

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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Palestinian Plays at NYTW

I would be remiss if I didn't note that, since the "My Name is Rachel Corrie" fracas last year, New York Theatre Workshop has tried to repair its relations with Arab-American theatre artists in the city. They have already programmed Betty Shamieh's "The Black Eyed" for this summer. And this weekend they are presenting a mini-festival of readings, "Aswat: Voices of Palestine."

Too bad they have to do it at NYU, and not in their own space. But the mainstage is already taken up by this, which strikes me as much less interesting than any one of these readings. Then again, it's a one-man show.

The line-up for this weekend includes:

Last Train to Jerusalem by Fuad Abboud
It Happened in a Place Called Palestine by Razanne Carmey
Sharon and My Mother-in-Law by Suad Amiry, adapted by Afaf Shawwa
Deir Yassin: The Stonecutters by Nathalie Handal
Between This Breath and You by Naomi Wallace
The Monologist Suffers Her Monologue by Yussef El Guindi
Food and Fadwa or Eklitl Hob by Lameece Issaq and Jacob Kader
Souvenir by Sami Metwasi/Al-Harah Theater
Full schedule here. Each reading followed by discussion.

(Yes, I guess in the case of at least Naomi Wallace, it's the plays that are Palestinian in theme and subject, not necessarily the authors.)

The festival is a collaboration between NYTW and Nibras, an Arab-American theatre collective. On their website Nibras tells an interesting story of how this partnership with NYTW was formed out of the conflict of the "Corrie" controversy:

In the spring of 2006, Nibras began a series of dialogues with Jim Nicola and Linda Chapman of New York Theatre Workshop, concerning the complex issues surrounding artistic output from and about Palestine. In the course of these conversations, we learned that we share much common ground and a passion for using theatre to pose challenging questions and expose points of view that have been obscured or silenced by polarizing social and political forces. We thus found a shared call to action to provide opportunities for hidden voices from Palestine to be heard by a wider audience.

After a highly successful collaboration to produce two nights of readings for the Public Theater's "New Work Now!" Arab-Israeli Festival, NYTW named Nibras a company-in-residence and invited Najla Saïd, Leila Buck, and Nathalie Handal to join its extended community of affiliate artists, the Usual Suspects.

Anything that increases the diversity of new work on our stages--especially new work of an international and political perspective--is welcome. So good for NYTW for making something good come out of this. But I also hope Nibras will be able to actually stage some of these pieces, with or without NYTW's help. More readings and seminars are not necessarily the solution to the problem.

And speaking of the "Corrie" controversy, my final word on the subject is now published in the form of a brief essay in the new issue New York Theatre Review, a handsome book covering the year in New York alternative theatre. (My thanks to editor Brook Stowe for soliciting the piece.) You can buy a copy through the Amazon link in the right margin here. The biggest selling point of the volume are the published plays by Adam Szymkowicz, Anne Washburn, and Quiara Alegria Hudes (the Pulitzer-nominated "Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue").

(There'll be an event coming up on June 15 at Drama Book Shop where you can hear some readings of the short plays included, meet the contributors, and I suppose argue with us. More to come on that.)


Anonymous said...

Agrred, PG: Let's hope NYTW does some full productions of some of these writers' works AND that some of them will be well worth it. (I'm not a fan of Shamieh's writing-- too didactic and flat for my taste -- but have appreciated what I've seen so far of el Guindi, and, of course, Wallace. Looking forward to some discoveries in this series.)

Anonymous said...

Oops. Never mind. I can't look forward to most of this series. I have alredy missed it - the bulk of it was this afternoon. RATS.