Arts Listings

ReOrient Festival Showcases Mid-East Short Plays

By Ken Bullock, Special to the Planet
Friday January 18, 2008

ReOrient, the annual festival of short plays about the Middle East, a production of Golden Thread, founded by Torange Yeghiazarian of Oakland, this year features performances by Berkeley favorite Julian Lopez-Morillas and Danielle Levin of Oakland. 

It also features a play, 22 Minutes Remaining, by Filipino playwright and Oakland resident Ignacio Zulueta, directed by Evran Odcikin (also of Oakland), about the tense yet humorous dialogue that develops when an Israeli officer makes a “courtesy call” to a woman in a Lebanese village to inform her of its imminent bombing.  

The festival runs through Feb. 3 at the Magic Theatre in San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center. Info at (415) 626-4061 or 

Golden Thread for years has produced plays and workshops at Berkeley venues like the Ashby Stage and at UC. This year’s offering of five plays is an unusually taut yet diverse pairing of themes and styles. 

It leads off with Zulueta’s piece, in which the young Israeli encounters a yenta, albeit a muslim one, he being the same age as the son from whom she waits by the phone in vain to hear.  

The program continues with an ambitious staging of Nobel nominee Simin Behbehani’s poem “I Sell Souls.” The ancient ghazal poetic form—perhaps best-known in the U.S. through Rumi’s lyrics—has been thematically expanded by Behbehani’s innovations, adding theatrical subjects and conversation. It includes projections of objects in nature and closeups of faces and feet walking, which play with scale against the forlorn figures of the players, including Lopez-Morillas. 

“The Monologist Suffers Her Monologue” features Sara Razavi (directed by Arlene Hood) in Yussef El Guindi’s acerbic and reflexive piece on Palestine and Palestinians, an ongoing monologue hindered from dialogue by its “nonexistence.”  

“Pistachio Tales,” by Lebanese American Laura Shamas (directed by Mark Routhier) is a humorous but bittersweet story-within-a-story about the Patriot Act, a perhaps misinterpreted gift of rare red pistachios--and the breakdown of friendly meeting and conversation with the threat of surveillence. 

The longest and most challenging piece is “Between This Breath and You,” contributed by MacArthur and Obie Prizewinner British political playwright Naomi Wallace. Lopez-Morrilas, Levin and a clownish Ali El-Gassier are the principals in a strange confrontation between a janitor and nurse in a West Jerusalem clinic closed for the evening and a patient (in every sense) from East Jerusalem who won’t leave the waiting room.  

Impressive performances mark a wayward, gamey allegory that keeps changing tack, from a catch phrase in an old Police hit song, to the tale about an organ donor, becoming the image of unwitting symbiosis, unsuspected familial relation.