ReOrient

A two-day festival of plays about the Middle East can't live up to its promising subject matter

Golden Thread's fourth annual Festival of Short Plays About the Middle East -- or ReOrient -- should be more pertinent now than ever. Who better to give us a sense of life and war in Palestine, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq? Theater troupes devoted to that blighted part of the world are rare in San Francisco, and Golden Thread knows it. "What an incredible time it is to be Middle Eastern in America," writes Artistic Director Torange Yeghiazarian in the program notes. "There are no easy answers, no sure way of determining facts." ReOrient consists of two nights, one devoted to "Women," the other to "War." The first comprises three uneven plays about women from Iran, Egypt, and Syria. Such a Beautiful Voice Is Sayeda's by Yussef el Guindi is based on a fabulist story by Salwa Bakr about a Muslim woman who discovers, in middle age, that she can sing like an opera diva. Her husband and the other men around her think she's nuts. The gentle satire of Egyptian society is funny, but there's a pall on the production that keeps it from taking flight -- a basic lack of acting energy. The same pall lies over Waves, by Yeghiazarian, which should be an enthralling drama about two former revolutionaries from Iran -- both female -- meeting again in Northridge, Calif. (of all places). The climax is nothing but forced emotion and shouting. And Sewing in Syria, with Pamela Marsh in the lead role, is stillborn. Maybe the "War" night has more to say about current events, but this initial selection of shows suggests that Golden Thread hasn't learned to say its piece yet with vigor.

 
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