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Facing East 

Just in time to promote a little cross-cultural understanding: a theater festival highlighting Middle Eastern subjects and playwrights

Wednesday, Sep 26 2001
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All around the city, yellow posters reading "San Francisco Is a Hate-Free Zone" have sprouted on storefronts. While the signs are a useful way to resist a backlash against Arab-Americans and Muslims, perhaps a better way to connect across cultures is to catch "ReOrient 2001," produced by Golden Thread Productions.

The program presents three groups of two short plays each, covering Middle Eastern subjects and playwrights. Series One, Sept. 27-30, features the world premiere of Stoning by exiled Iranian writer Ghazi Rabihavi and a production of Ukimwi by Tom Coash. Stoning tells the story of a female nurse accused of adultery during the Iran-Iraq war. It is a particularly tough play to show right now, given that it looks disapprovingly at the brutal way adulterers are punished in some countries. As Golden Thread's founder and artistic director, Torange Yeghiazarian, says, "People are concerned whether this is the time to criticize ourselves, when everyone is attacking us. How do we do it while maintaining our self-respect?" She plans to include information in the program notes about the fact that stoning predates Islam, plus inspirational notes from the Koran and writers like Khalil Gibran.

Series Two, Oct. 4-7, highlights two comedies: an adaptation by Yussef El Guindi of Chekhov's A Marriage Proposal along with El Guindi's own Three Stops. In Marriage, El Guindi moves the 19th-century Russian author's story of a befuddled suitor into the milieu of an immigrant Arab-American family. Three Stops, about the interactions among three bus passengers, is directed by Yeghiazarian. The first play, she says, is in a "traditional setting, in the sense of how relationships are constructed," while Three Stops takes place in a "contemporary urban setting."

The final series shows Oct. 11-14, presenting Expatriates by Myles Weber and a world premiere of ABAGA by Yeghiazarian. "Abaga" means "future" in Armenian, but Yeghiazarian writes about the past -- in some sense, her own. The play tells the story of two unlikely couples, the first an Armenian man and a Turkish woman in 1915 (during the Armenian genocide), the second their child and a Jewish immigrant to Israel. Yeghiazarian is of Armenian heritage, born in Iran, a background that "forced me to start questioning acceptance, questioning the purity of race and religion. It gave me an all-inclusive outlook: We're all the same; why do we have to reject each other?"

The title "ReOrient" is inspired by Salman Rushdie's novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet, about an earth-shattering event that disorients the book's characters. The theater festival is intended to remind us that one can regain one's footing, one's focus. "In the U.S., we live in a society that's searching for spirituality," Yeghiazarian says. "We've become too secular, too analytical, too isolated. What happened [on Sept. 11] forced people to reevaluate that and think about how important the human connection is, how important each of us is to each other." There's never been a better time to pick up that thread.

About The Author

Karen Silver

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