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Artistic Ruminations

Staging a Conflict: Israel, Palestine, and the American Theatre

Where politicians and diplomats fail, artists and storytellers may succeed. Not in ratifying a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine, but in building the social and political connectivity that enables resolution. In the absence of healthy relationships, and amid the persistence of narratives that reproduce staticity, Malek Najjar, Corey Pond, and I have curated Semitic Commonwealth, a staged reading series comprised of six plays exploring the human toll of the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, not with timelines, statistics, and SWOT analyses, but a laser-sharp focus on the personal prices paid by those most affected.

We’ve assembled a team of distinguished playwrights of Arab and Jewish backgrounds who have written plays that propel the discourse beyond predictable enmities and righteous posturing, the monotonous talking points and selective memories that have stifled progress for far too long. They are plays that explore themes of identity, justice, occupation, exile, history, and homeland with remarkable honesty and integrity.

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Features

Forward - In Chicago Theatre, The Play’s the Thing for Both Sides in Israel-Palestinian Conflict

by Aimee Levitt

Ken Kaissar was born in Ramat Gan, Israel, and grew up in a right-wing Jewish household in Indianapolis. His father fought in three Israeli wars—1956, 1967, and 1973—and growing up, Kaissar was told that Israel was in perpetual danger and that, as he put it, “the Arabs wanted to kill us and destroy us.” As he grew older and left home, he found that other people understood the Middle Eastern conflict much differently. In that version of the story, it was the Israelis who were the oppressors.

Kaissar is a playwright, and so he thought he would work through his feelings about these two vastly disconnected narratives by writing. In 2008, he took a research trip to Israel and decided he would listen to anyone who would take the time to talk to him. He spoke with Jews and Palestinians, with teachers and workers, and activists from the group Combatants for Peace.

“It struck me,” he said, “that though we can’t find a way out, everyone agrees the situation is screwed up and we need to find a way out, and we need to do it now. Everyone I talked to wanted two states. Israeli and Palestinian, they have the same cause. But they don’t know how. They all said, ‘What do you want me to do?’ It was like theater of the absurd. There’s a need to move, but no one can move.”

The result of that trip was a play called “The Victims”. It intersperses realistic scenes based on Kaissar’s interviews with scenes of two characters who live in a garden that would be idyllic except that the owner comes to beat them every day.

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Reviews

‘Invasion!’ arrives at world’s divisive time

The global terror alerts dominating the news in recent days certainly do not help the arguments being made by Jonas Hassen Khemiri in his play, “Invasion!,” now in its Midwest debut by Silk Road Rising. Part satire, part agit-prop, part impassioned look at identity politics, Khemiri’s play (with an English translation by Rachel Wilson-Broyles), is a cry against Muslim profiling.

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Features

Silk Road Rising and a collaboration between Octavarius and CNGM Pictures, have decided to create their theater on the web so that their work can be accessed by people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to see it

Theater is moving online. Sure, poorly and often surreptitiously filmed stage productions already get uploaded to YouTube, but a pair of Chicago ensembles are taking a new, digital-first approach. Silk Road Rising and a collaboration between Octavarius and CNGM Pictures, have decided to create their theater on the web so that their work can be accessed by people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to see it.

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Features

David Henry Hwang Talks Race, 'Chinglish'

There was all this talk when Obama got elected about how we were living in a postracial world. But we’re not. Until we get to the point where James Earl Jones can play, say, George Washington, race matters.

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