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Is it any wonder that many people are wondering anew if the intractable Israel-Palestine conflict can possibly be resolved in the next century?
Silk Road Rising, a theatre located in the heart of Chicago’s Loop, hopes to spark resolution through humanizing the region’s decades-long dispute. Their upcoming series, “Semitic Commonwealth,” featuring six plays by Arab and Jewish playwrights, explores the human themes of identity, occupation, home, and exile that underscore both sides of the conflict’s human toll.
Rather than argue that one side is right and another is wrong, series curators Jamil Khoury, Michael Malek Najjar, and Corey Pond have programmed Arab and Jewish plays in conversation with one another to illustrate the human cost at the heart of the issue.
Genesis of the Silk Road Rising Series
Silk Road Rising founding artistic director Jamil Khoury and series lead director Michael Malek Najjar had first worked together on the world-premiere production of Khoury’s play Precious Stones.
That piece was set during the first intifada and told the story of a Jewish-American woman and a Palestinian-American woman who fall in love in the midst of creating a dialogue group for Arabs and Jews.
Najjar credits Precious Stones with first showing him how audiences could begin to interface with this complicated conflict through “being in the others’ shoes.”
Now, thirteen years later, Najjar and Khoury are again working to help audiences from all sides and perspectives empathize with a variety of viewpoints.
At the heart of each of the six plays is each character's’ shared humanity. This is a major and shared goal for the series co-curators.. Khoury also knows that some of the plays would prove challenging for some, saying “These plays do not march in lockstep, but are dynamic, original, challenging, provocative, complicated, funny, painful, and sometimes controversial.
“The plays vary wildly in thematic content, dramatic structure, time and place, and pose difficult questions without presuming to offer answers.”
Enhanced Staged Readings
Silk Road Rising Artistic Director Jamil Khoury classifies the plays in “Semitic Commonwealth” as “enhanced staged readings.” This means the actors and director go through a longer rehearsal process to really delve into the story and characters. In performance, this translates to a much richer experience on stage. Although the actors still read from scripts and music stands, many directors add movement and minimal technical elements to create a more dynamic and immersive experience for the audience. Some directors in the series are even including hand props and costuming pieces to further enhance their storytelling.
Both Jewish and Arab Playwrights
“Semitic Commonwealth” features three plays by Arab playwrights and three plays by Jewish playwrights.
Scenes from 69 Years by Hannah Khalil is an epic snapshot of life in Palestine, then and now revealing the dreams, humor, sadness, and obstacles of daily life in the shadow of the ‘separation wall’.
Paired with Khalil’s play is Motti Lerner’s The Admission, a political drama about the conflicting narratives of the 1948 war.
The second weekend of “Semitic Commonwealth” includes The Zionists by Zohar Tirosh-Polk and Tennis in Nablus by Ismail Khalidi. Tirosh-Polk’s play moves backwards and forwards through time, and explores the effects of relocation, war, and loss on an Israeli family across multiple generations. Tennis in Nablus brings to life the last days of the Arab Revolt as the people of Palestine attempt for one last time to drive out the British.
The “Semitic Commonwealth” series’ final weekend contains Urge for Going by Mona Mansour and The Victims by Ken Kaissar. Urge for Going tells the story of Jamila, a studious 17-year-old Palestinian girl growing up in a refugee camp in southern Lebanon, as she feverishly prepares for the university exam that is her only way out of poverty. The Victims explores the contradictory narratives of Palestinian and Israeli histories by juxtaposing a Jewish American writer’s journey to Israel with the story of two men who are beaten each day in an idyllic garden.
“Semitic Commonwealth” will run from February 10th to February 26th, 2017.
WEEK ONE (February 10-12):
Scenes from 69* Years by Hannah Khalil
Friday, February 10, 2017 at 8:00pm & Saturday, February 11, 2017 at 4:00pm
The Admission by Motti Lerner
Saturday, February 11, 2017 at 8:00pm & Sunday, February 12, 2017 at 4:00pm
WEEK TWO (February 17-19):
The Zionists by Zohar Tirosh-Polk
Friday, February 17, 2017 at 8:00pm & Saturday, February 18, 2017 at 4:00pm
Tennis in Nablus by Ismail Khalidi
Saturday, February 18, 2017 at 8:00pm & Sunday, February 19, 2017 at 4:00pm
WEEK THREE (February 24-26):
Urge for Going by Mona Mansour
Friday, February 24, 2017 at 8:00pm & Saturday, February 25, 2017 at 4:00pm
The Victims by Ken Kaissar
Saturday, February 25, 2017 at 8:00pm & Sunday, February 26, 2017 at 4:00pm
Silk Road Rising
77 W. Washington St. Lower Level
Chicago, IL 60602
All photos courtesy of Silk Road Rising, with additional ZZ credit as shown above.
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