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Friday, March 14, 2008

Palestinian Play to be Staged at the Kennedy Center

In the New York Times yesterday this article, "Kennedy Center Will Showcase Arab Arts"appeared. The below is the opening portion of this article pertaining to the subject matter in the title. Note the last paragraph and particularly the last sentence referring to the Palestinian play to be performed.

Kennedy Center Will Showcase Arab Arts

Next year, the center's annual package-tour festival takes on, rather than a single country, the 22 nations of the Arab League, from Egypt to Somalia. The three-week festival (Feb. 25-March 15) is called "Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World," and represents one of the center's most ambitious projects to date. It has a $10 million budget (well over the approximately $6 million for this year's Japan festival) and will entail, among other things, the construction of a souk on the Kennedy Center premises.

The program will bring in a number of dance groups, such as the Caracalla Dance Theater of Lebanon. Theater offerings include a play called "Alive From Palestine: Stories Under Occupation." Among the concerts is an evening of sacred music representing the broad range of religions actually present under the Arab umbrella.

The festival aspires to show "other sides of Arab people than people here are reading about in the newspaper," Michael Kaiser, the Kennedy Center's president, said in an interview before the announcement. "Art is a way of examining what their concerns are, what they're talking about."

Kaiser's low-key delivery yesterday may have sought to play down the potential controversy of bringing in some 500 people from countries that tend to raise eyebrows at the Department of Homeland Security (visa negotiations are already underway). The Palestinian play has already sparked concerns among donors.


So, the Kennedy Center, named for President Kennedy, the president who had to fight anti-Catholic bigotry to become our first Catholic president, is having to do a "low key" announcement due to eyebrows that might be raised at DHS over 500 people from ARAB countries who wish to come to perform a CULTURAL event. A little bit of racial profiling going on here I dare say.

Then the article states that the Palestinian play has "sparked concerns among donors". Hmmmmmmmmm, I wonder what is so "sparky" about this play. Let's read an article about it, also from the New York Times: Interestingly it states the play is performed in Arabic. I'm curious if it will be at the Kennedy Center.

THEATER REVIEW; A Plea for Recognizing Humanity Everywhere


Published: June 27, 2002, Thursday

Newspapers almost smother the seven performers in ''Alive From Palestine: Stories Under Occupation,'' a plaintive, almost supplicating new work at the Long Wharf Theater here. The show is a presentation of Al Kasaba Theater, a Palestinian troupe from Ramallah making its timely American debut through Saturday. And the news is not just in the air, but on the stage. The set consists of mounds of crumpled newspapers -- newspaper igloos, almost -- and the actors, for their monologues and sketches, emerge from beneath and behind them. This is a fragile and rickety village, hardly protective, hardly safe, hardly a haven for people who live there.

But the metaphor is more complex than that. The villagers are also prone to snatching broadsheets from the mounds, reading them and passing them along. In the final moments of the show they level the mounds, grabbing handfuls of newspapers and tossing them in the air, until the stage is awash in a sea of crumpled papers. It's awfully effective stage language, an eloquently wordless lament that for most of the world -- for Americans in particular -- the Palestinians are living and dying only in the newspapers.

It's certainly true that the news-flavored view of the Palestinians in this country is largely unsympathetic, yielding a uniform impression of a vengeful, intractably angry population. That this portrait is unfairly reductive is Al Kasaba's reasonable and morally forceful argument. And the show's series of monologues and sketches, deftly knitted together by the director and designer Amir Nizar Zubi, constitute a plea for recognition of the humanity behind this simple facade; to that end, the show is meant to illustrate the daily strain of living under a constant threat of harm, the agonizingly preposterous alterations affected in quotidian existence by the perpetual presence of an enemy.

The show is part of the Seventh International Festival of Arts and Ideas here, and predictably it has touched off a squall; demonstrators at the show's opening on Tuesday held up signs protesting the group's appearance and passed out fliers presenting ''an alternate view'' of the conflict in the Middle East.

Pro-Israeli theatergoers will undoubtedly feel an occasional finger in the eye; Palestinians killed by Israelis are referred to as martyrs, and at one point a Palestinian confronting an Israeli pilot describes looking into the face of evil. And though the show is not blatantly political, it does refer to Ariel Sharon's inflammatory visit to Temple Mount in September 2000. But the company has chosen not to make any reference to Yasir Arafat or to suicide bombers; that seems politically prudent, if not chicken hearted.

Still, there is little in the show that is likely to inflame anyone in any new way. Instead, what we hear from the stage is a terrible helplessness and sadness and an anger that is provoked by what feels like oppression. Whether you think they are oppressed or not, the stories they tell are those of legitimate experience; this is what it feels like to be an ordinary Palestinian now. And with that in mind, ''Alive from Palestine'' is valuable theater.

Given its news-from-the-front quality, it is also poignant and occasionally quite touching. It isn't, however, particularly surprising theater; the use of the newspapers is by far the most intriguing element of stagecraft implemented here. Otherwise the stories told by the actors -- all of whom are professional and for the most part admirably understated in their anguished roles -- are full of the irony and pathos you would expect.

In one story a young man whose father was an impoverished tinsmith and for whom tin is the symbol of everything that holds him back unloads the family business only to realize that bombs are demolishing so many houses that quickly erected tin homes will be in demand. In another story a couple exchange war detritus -- a bullet, a gas canister -- as love tokens. In a third story a man addresses the book bag of his son who has been killed by a bomb; going through his son's belongings, he says he will pass them along to the boy's younger brother.

''I'm sorry, my son, forgive me,'' the man concludes. ''I forgot you were my only child.''

The show is performed in Arabic, and the subtitle translation is occasionally suspect, making one wonder whether the several moments, like this one, that slip into heavy-handedness are being attenuated. In any case, the show is at its most effective when it is not being ponderous, but clever and even humorous, as in a skit in which a suitcase is personified and speaks lamentingly to its owner.

''Why can't I be like a normal suitcase?'' asks the actor who is wearing a case on his head with a cutout for his face. (The program does not distinguish the identities of the performers.) ''Arriving at a clean airport, being put on a cart by a perfumed lady.'' This dream, which includes a delightful unpacking in a luxury hotel, stands in opposition to the suitcase's actual existence, which it describes as ''eviction, expulsion, sun, dust, soldiers pointing guns at me.''

By the end of this 70-minute show, what has become painfully evident is the quality of a life that Palestinians have come to accept as normal. It will move even an audience hostile to the Palestinian cause -- or at least it should -- because it reminds us that no one should have to live this way. (AH! Maybe that's what's so sparky about this play)

''Believe me, what you have seen, it is a little of much,'' said George Ibrahim, Al Kasaba's general director during a panel discussion after the performance.

''We want people to listen to us differently,'' he said. ''The image of Palestinians in the United States is of terrorists. It is not like the newspapers you are reading. Imagine yourself being news, and you will understand the rest.''

Stories Under Occupation

Director and designer, Amir Nizar Zuabi; lighting by Mu'az Jubeh; general director, George Ibrahim. Al Kasaba Theater. Presented by the Seventh International Festival of Arts and Ideas, New Haven. At the Long Wharf Theater, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven.

WITH: Georgina Asfour, Khalifa Natour, Imad Farajin, Kamel El Basha, Husam Abu Eisheh and Mahmoud Awad. (source)

Does that sound controversial to you? Because it doesn't to me whatsoever. I venture to say that the mere fact that the Kennedy Center has allowed planning to stage a play about Palestinians BY a Palestinian in the first place is what is REALLY rankling the donors because there are certainly those who want Palestinians voices to be silenced and NEVER heard.

Another review in Variety sheds some light:

Mary Miller, the new director of New Haven, Conn.'s annual Intl. Festival of Arts & Ideas, invited controversy when she scheduled Palestinian and Israeli companies in this year's seventh fest. She got it. On opening night of this Palestinian production, both picketers and police were present and the audience had to pass through an electronic security check at the door.Unfortunately, the circumstances outside the theater made a stronger statement than the play (source) (what statement did the circumstances outside the theater make pray tell? That there were a bunch of disgruntled unruly people trying to drown out Palestinian voices perhaps?)

Now let me ask, WHY is scheduling a play about Palestinians AUTOMATICALLY going to "invite controversy and get it"? This article doesn't state, but do ALL audiences at this festival have to pass through electronic security checks or just this one? Some more RACISM going on here folks.

I say, let the play go ON, and for ONCE, just let it be!

Oh................thinking about being in New York during that time and would really like to see this performance, it's on their website HERE but states "no details or schedule at this time"

Would you like to read some excerpts from this play? Read them HERE and enjoy!

UPDATE: March 17th. the following logged on to this post by googling the Caracalla Dance Company from Beirut which will be performing. [Label IP Address]
Country United States
Region District Of Columbia
City Washington
ISP Institute For Defense Analyses

The Institute for Defense Analysis is researching a DANCE COMPANY?

Oh well........................................

UPDATE: One year later, March 6, 2008, HERE is the listing for "Alive From Palestine: Stories Under the Occupation" The link contains a video clip of the production at the Kennedy Center.

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