Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

"Convergence" a Breakthrough Drama of Arab/Israeli Tragedy, Hopes, Despair

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

"Convergence" a Breakthrough Drama of Arab/Israeli Tragedy, Hopes, Despair

Article excerpt

Playwright Shakir Yusif Farsakh proves he is a master of character development in his two-act drama, "Convergence." In a small Los Angeles theater, the audience's empathy for the players was palpable. This was no small feat, considering that the two protagonists are the commander of a suicide bomb brigade and a colonel in an occupying army.

The world premiere of this provocative work ran for 21 performances at the Lex in Hollywood, under the auspices of the Blue Sphere Alliance. Artistic director Anthony Barnao plans to reopen a revised version of the ensemble production in January.

"I grew up in Brooklyn, where I knew plenty of Jews," stated the award-winning director, "but not once in all my student years did I read or hear anything about Palestine or its people. I associated Palestinians with suicide bombs, and that was about it."

Until, that is, early 2003, when actress Sarah Ripard approached Barnao with the "Convergence" script, which she had been holding onto for a couple of years. She knew it wouldn't be a commercial success, she told Barnao, but it had an important message.

Barnao liked it, and asked a Jewish colleague to read it. She assured him the script was balanced.

Farsakh holds the right credentials for telling the story of two people claiming the same land. His father is Palestinian, his mother Jewish, and he was born in Beirut. From his home in New York City, the playwright worked long-distance with Barnao in revising and rewriting the script. Ripard and her producer husband, Kaspian Black, took over stewardship of producing the play for Blue Sphere Alliance, a multi-ethnic company of artists reflecting the cultural diversity of Los Angeles.

After two months of rehearsals, "Convergence" opened this past Sept. 11. It pulled in full houses throughout its run.

Barnao was surprised and gratified by the reaction of audiences, particularly that of many Jews, who commented that "Convergence" enabled them to see from a Palestinian perspective. A discussion followed a matinee performance this writer attended. The first comment came from a handsome, middle-aged man, who confessed that watching the play was a profound experience, second only to the birth of his daughters.

The stage is set on the left with a basement room of a bombed-out house in Ramallah. On the right is an Israeli military office in Tel Aviv. A watchtower is silhouetted on the backdrop for a center platform on which stand three figures: Mahmoud Yacoub (Roy Avigdori), leader of a suicide bomb brigade; a spirit dancer (Maya G. Karasso) who, attired in turban and veils, dances in the memory of Hagar and Sarah; and, to the right, Col. Amos Eitan (Herzl Tobey).

Staring at the audience, Eitan speaks: "I see my land. Not much to you, maybe, but my heart is here. This earth, these trees, these rocks, these homes are ours. Where you see desert and packed ground and too much sun, I see a fertile land infused with the dreams and hopes of the Jewish people. The home we lost long ago."

Yacoub: "I see my land. Not this squalor. This refugee camp overgrown with garbage and human misery. These ruins of my homeland. That hill, over there, that was my village before the Jews came. Now I cannot set foot on the land that belonged to my father and his father before his for thousands of years."

Eitan: "For thousands of years the Jews were forced to wander. We made our homes in many countries, but always oppressed, always resented, and ultimately, almost annihilated by the hatred of one country. …

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