Arab/American Theater

Digging into Arab Culture

Building an Arab/American Theater Tradition

By Kari Sprowl

The Arab-American community in the Los Angeles area is developing its own theatrical tradition, blending the traditional and the experimental. Dr. Fadwa El Guindi, an Egyptian-American anthropologist/filmmaker at UCLA, is spearheading this effort. In 1992, she founded Al-Funnun Al-Arabiya, a non-profit organization for the promotion of the Arab arts. Kanaaqeel, a brand-new Arab-American theater company founded by actors Ismael Kanater and Tamadhur Al-Aqueel is contributing to the effort, as is Cornerstone Theater, a company based in Santa Monica which specializes in working with under-represented communities.

This article will review several of the recent works which have come out of this stimulating theatrical environment:

“Ghurba,” an experiment in multi-ethnic teamwork, tells the story of uprooted Arab immigrants.

“L.A. Building” takes place within the multi-cultural milieu of a Los Angeles apartment complex, and includes a segment featuring the story of a Lebanese immigrant.

“Qala Al-Rawi” is an all-Arab production which deals with traditional values among Bedouins in the Western desert of Egypt.

“Shahrazade” continues the ancient Oriental Shahrazadic storytelling tradition.

Ghurba

"Ghura." Photo: Kari Sprowl

If you missed “Ghurba,” you missed a little jewel of a play — powerful, funny, and moving. You also missed a fascinating experiment in multi-ethnic teamwork.

UCLA anthropologist and filmmaker Dr. Fadwa El Guindi suggested the name for the play, which she translates to mean a state of being away from home, or alienated within the homeland.

The play was the product of the combined efforts of the Cornerstone Theater Company, Santa-Monica based theater professionals who work with under-represented populations, and Al-Funun Al-Arabiya, the Arab arts organization.

The theme of the play is longing for that which has been lost, for a place of belonging, and for identity. Another aspect of the theme might be idealization of the past. The characters are torn between two cultures, belonging to both and neither, unable to return to a home that is no longer the same. Although the play is based upon the real experiences of Arab-American immigrants, the theme is universal. As African-Indian-American playwright and director Shishir Kurup says, “Everyone has a Ghurba.

“Ghurba” played for twelve performances at MacGowan Hall at UCLA as part of the Los Angeles Festival in September, 1993. Every performance was sold out to standing room, with waiting lists for most performances. The laughter and tears that I observed among the audience (Arab and Western) attested to the power of the piece. A number of the Arab-American audience told me that they had attended the play multiple times, bringing friends and family — particularly the children. Some were able to see their own personal histories enacted. Many of the Westerners stayed for the discussion period that followed each performance to ask cultural questions.

Radio personality and human rights activist Casey Kasem said of it, “It was emotionally moving, informative, really first-rate. The humor, drama, music, script, performances, and direction — everything about it, in fact, was outstanding.”

Los Angeles ADC President Don Bustany said, “It had a feel and an attitude. It embraced me. The rapport between the cast and the audience was outstanding. I tip my hat to the vision that Shishir Kurup had and was able to realize.”

Visual artist Hana’a Al-Wardi, whose exhibit “A Tale of Two Cities” was featured in the Los Angeles Festival, said, “It made me feel so nostalgic. I never wanted it to end.”

Filmmaker and director Victor Haboush said, “I loved it. I thought that it was excellent. I’m second-generation Arab-American, and I had the sense of something very fresh and contemporary, but also something that reached back into the older ways and traditions. It reminded me of my parents, and their stories of their journey to America. I thought that the music was excellent, it was intelligently written, and that the set was particularly well-conceived.”

The process involved in the making of the play is interesting enough to warrant a story in and of itself. Cornerstone staff interfaced with Funun artists to obtain the cultural background and skills that were needed — Arab-American actors, musicians, graphic designers, set designers, cultural experts, etc. They also networked into the community, interviewing dozens of Arab-American immigrants to obtain their stories to weave into the script.

The play was constructed by Shishir Kurup from these stories, from music suggested by actor Saleem Azzouqa, from poetry by Mahmoud Darwish, from “Purgatory” by Yeats, and from some dialogue and poetry contributed by cast members (thirteen Arab-Americans, one Chinese-American, and two Unhyphenated-Americans). Dr. El Guindi reviewed the scripts for cultural appropriateness and accuracy. The blend worked well.

There has been some debate in some reviews concerning the use of the Yeats, as purgatory is a Western concept. However, an argument might be made that purgatory is also a psychological state of guilt and resolution. The segment concerned a crime committed against family; and family is a strong concept in Arab culture. The choice of resource might also speak to the universality of the theme; the superimposition of alien values upon an uprooted people.

The stage set was minimalist. Sails (to suggest migration) were suspended over the stage. Images (Beirut, flames, minarets, calligraphy) were projected thereon. A vendor’s stand and a fountain completed the set.

The play was intimate. The audience of about 100 were seated on two sides of the stage. No clear spatial division between audience and actors was apparent. Intimacy between the actors and the audience was established immediately. The audience was given a bit of each actor’s personal history as the actor entered the stage. Like Ahmed Ahmed with “a name so nice they named me twice.” Or like Saleem Azzouqa. He was told that he doesn’t “look Arab,” and if he took a non-Arab stage name he would get more theater work. After he assumed the name Alex Montini, he did get more work. Or like Melisse Bouzaine, whose family changed their name from Abouzian when they encountered prejudice after their emigration to Canada from Lebanon. Throughout the play, the audience was kept involved by the players, and made to feel that they were part of the process. This enhanced the emotional impact of the piece. Because of the intimacy of the interaction between performers and observers, a small theater is probably necessary for this production.

The play was multisensual. In addition to the visuals, one’s hearing was treated to beautiful Arab music, one’s sense of touch to the form and texture of eggplants (which were offered to the audience to hold and feel), one’s sense of smell and taste to the lemoned and garlicked eggplant (sauteed on stage and served to the audience). The serving of the eggplant not only provided a gustatory treat, it served to underline the strong value that Arabs place upon hospitality.

The plot line involved the stories of travelers on a journey to the mythical city of Ghurba. Although the play was performed by a mix of professionals and nonprofessionals, all of the performances seemed fresh, affecting, and authentic.

Ismael Kanatur was brilliant. We first see him as a Palestinian father who must leave his young daughter behind in the care of a vendor while he goes ahead to find and establish their home. In one moving dialogue, he pleads with his Westernized daughter not to forget her language. In another, he gives her the keys to their house, which may no longer be standing. It is very important to him that his daughter knows that, at least, there once was a home. In a later scene, he ages about thirty years, right before our eyes, into another character — a bitter and anguished patricide.

George Haddad’s comedy monologue was delivered entirely in Arabic, with no translation. This was done deliberately to enable part of the audience to understand how it feels to be excluded. The routine was just long enough to make its point without boring us non-Arabic speakers. Mr. Haddad put so much presence into his speech, that a number of Westerners found it funny, although they were left out of the specifics of the joke.

Tamadhur Al-Ageel was highly amusing as the “Sensuous Woman,” reveling in the flavor and aroma of a peach while reading the “Arabian Nights” and the “Joy of Cooking.”

Equally funny was Pauline Guld. She plays a liberated young Arab-American woman, contemptuous of her more traditional cousin. She holds out for a non-arranged, civil wedding, and boasts that she “buys her grape leaves at Trader Joe’s.”

Teddy-bearish Benajah Cobb played the vendor, a good-natured, culturally inept American, trying too hard to be Arab.

Samira Haddad somehow managed to be both sad and funny. We see her preparing the body of her husband, who died on the journey, for burial. As she tenderly washes him, she croons a poem in Arabic (which Ms. Haddad composed) about their love. She intersperses her sad tasks with funny ruminations in English about driving a car with a manual transmission (“let out the clutch slowly”). We learn that her goals in America are to learn English, to go to college, and to learn to drive a car — goals that she will now accomplish alone.

Page Leong gave a magnificent and rending performance as a Lebanese wife and mother, waiting for her husband and child to return home. En route, they are killed by a bomb, their bodies so charred that they are stuck to the earth. In her despair and disbelief, she refuses to allow burial. I later learned that this story is the personal history of one of the other actors in the play, Pauline Guld. Pauline had to watch her personal tragedy enacted, night after night. I told her that I think that she is very courageous. I could not have born it.

Saleem Azzouqa, the male vocal soloist, contributed much of the music, and tutored the cast in the lyrics. His voice was beautiful — haunting and evocative. Especially when he sang the dolorant “Way Noun” (Where are they? Where have they gone?) Danielle Sallakian, the female vocal soloist, was compared by members of the audience to Feiruz.

The musicians, David Markowitz (violin, keyboards, saz), Arlita Stephens Roghani (tablah, dumbek, tar), and Fred Samia (oud) are the students of UCLA ethnomusicologist and concert and recording artist Dr. A. Jihad Racy. Dr. Racy is a member of the Artists Advisory Board for Al-Funun, and was also on the Los Angeles Festival Steering Committee.

There were a lot of good bits of business involving stereotypes and cultural juxtaposition. Like the young Arab girl asking for a Coke Classic in the desert. Or the American saying to the Palestinian, “You’re so dark and…authentic! Or the “I Dream of Genie” stereotype spoof.

Dr. El Guindi, who was also a member of the Los Angeles Festival Steering Committee, said, “The beauty of the play, and the reason for its phenomenal success, is that it moved away from the provincial in Arab theater to a more contemporary form of theater, employing multicultural cross-fertilization of art and ideas — an Indian director, Arab, Western and Chinese artists. The Funun lines have been ringing with requests for encores in California, and in other parts of the country.”

In summary, “Ghurba” is beautiful, intimate, and very stirring. It’s a multi-sensual and multi-ethnic collage that stays with one for days. While highlighting the many cultural differences between Arabs and Westerners, it also penetrates by reducing to the common denominator of human experience. Because of its subtlety and multiple levels of meaning, it might be perceived differently at each viewing.

Ultimately, it’s existential message might be conveyed in the poignant lines:

“What is your name?”

“I have forgotten.”

“What is your father’s name?”

“I have forgotten.”

"L.A. Building" Angelia Fowler, Shishir Kurup, Armando Molina

L.A. Building

Santa Monica-based Cornerstone Theater Company specializes in working with under-represented communities. They network into the community, cultivate and organize local artists and non-artists, and then produce a play using a mix of theater professionals and nonprofessionals. It is known for its innovative, experimental, and audience-interactive approach.

“L.A. Building,” written by Alison Carey, is a “cultural bridge,” involving cast members of plays previously produced with African-American, Arab-American, Hispanic, and senior communities. Five of the Arab-American actors who performed in “Ghurba” also performed in “L.A. Building” (Tamadhur Al-Ageel, Pauline Guld, George Haddad, Samira Haddad, and Ismael Kanater).

The play is set in a Los Angeles apartment complex, and depicts the interwoven stories of the tenants. The stage set is creative and unusual. The audience is seated on two sides of a central stage, representing the building’s courtyard. The apartment facades are ranged around three sides behind the audience. The audience is thus seated in the set. The audience, having been given green paper fans, plays the part of the shrubbery. (Talk about audience involvement!)

In one apartment, an unemployed Lebanese-American man (Ismael Kanater, who was brilliant in “Ghurba”) and his Western wife (Tamadhur Al-Ageel) try to conceal their grinding poverty from his visiting monolingual father (George Haddad). Too proud to accept unemployment compensation or welfare, the couple gradually pawn their possessions to survive and to “keep up appearances.”

In another apartment, a widowed ESL teacher (Benajah Cobb, great as the vendor in “Ghurba”) tries to raise his two children and take care of his mother-in-law. Titus Powell, in a magnetic and natural performance, plays his visiting nephew.

A third apartment houses the building’s manager (Angelia Fowler), her boyfriend (Armando Molina, alternating with Richard Miro), and her thirteen-year-old daughter (Rhonda Hoskins, whose singing voice is remarkable).

Mrs. Das’ husband, Mati (sensitively played by Shishir Kurup, who wrote and directed “Ghurba”) deserted his family ten years previously, while on the run from the law. (“The feds can’t tell us dark skins apart. If you talk in a funny accent, they figure you work in a 7-11.”)

He returns home, having not seen his child since she was a toddler. Mrs. Das is torn between loyalty to the lover who helps raise her child, and longing for the husband whose name she has kept. Mati Das struggles with himself, trying to establish a relationship with the daughter whom he never knew, and to prove to his wife that he has matured and changed.

In a fourth apartment lives a young woman (Pauline Guld), trying desperately to escape from her contractual enslavement to a porn film producer (Christopher Liam Moore). She ultimately succeeds, but is badly beaten. (“You don’t have to treat me decently because you like me, but because I’m a human being. That’s all I have to be.”)

Helga Andersen plays an Irish bag lady, her mind lost in a time before her son was killed in Viet Nam.

Throughout the play run such themes as unemployment, drive-by shootings, poverty, immigration problems, and earthquakes. Sound like a downer? It isn’t! These issues, so characteristic of Southern California, are treated with warmth, humor, and an underlying theme of indomitable humanity, and of people taking care of each other in adversity.

The five production numbers are highly entertaining. The writer’s personal favorite, the “Disaster Song” features dancers wearing FEMA hats executing a very funny, old-timey hoedown to down-home country fiddle. The song is about the BIG ONE.

A close second was the “Road to Nowhere Fast.” Dancers wearing Cal Trans gear performed a routine to a song with an Arab melody line about our freeways (five to the ten to the six-oh-five, se-ven-ten to the four-oh-five).

The “Communication Song” is a sassy mambo, performed by express mail deliverers and audience members pulled in to join the dance.

The music represents a nice spectrum of cultures: influences of Chinese, Japanese, Arab, salsa, jazz, and bluegrass. (David Markowitz, keyboards, violin, oud, percussion; Danny Moynihan, drums, saxophone, piano; Howard Liu, hu chin; Fahd Shabaan, accordian, tablah, guitar, oud; Xia Wu, pipa.)

There were a lot of L.A. jokes to which the audience could readily relate. Orange seller jokes, media reporter jokes, pizza delivery jokes, INS jokes, Sparkletts water jokes — even an Oprah Winfrey joke.

Something that I found personally moving: a brief reference, with requiem, to Nabil Nassar. Mr. Nassar was a young Palestinian-American actor from the Ghurba cast who died very suddenly. I thought that I caught a few more references, very subtle, scattered throughout the play.

Despite the seriousness of the issues woven through “L.A. Building,” the play was fun! It left the audience feeling good. Perhaps part of the reason for this is that Cornerstone appears to specialize in productions that are complex in their simplicity, and that present cultural diversity reduced to universally human common denominators.

Qala Al-Rawi

"Qala Al-Rawi." Shaykh ABu Ali

“Qala Al-Rawi” (The Storyteller Says), presented by Al-Funun Al-Arabiya on June 25 and 26, 1994 is a delightful surprise in three layers. It is the third of a series of plays presented by the Arab-American community through Funun.

The play is based on two true personal histories taken from the book Veiled Sentiments by Lila Abu-Lughod. Ms. Abu-Lughod, an Arab-American anthropologist, lived among Bedouins in the Western desert of Egypt for nearly two years, field-collecting material for her study.

The study documents the traditional reserve, stoicism, and strict honor codes of the Bedouins, and their tendency to subordinate their personal feelings to the greater good of the family, village, or tribe. In reaction, there is a tradition particularly found among the women and the young men of expressing forbidden feelings in oral-lyric poetry: that is, poetry that indirectly expresses personal feelings that run counter to the moral code, or to the expectations of the tribe.

The simple stage setting, designed by Hana’a Al-Wardi, a coffee shop scene, blended into a Bedouin camp scene in a sort of continuum. The stories unfold to us, bit-by-bit, in three layers. We first hear part of the story read in Arabic by the Rawi (storyteller) to coffee shop patrons. The players then enact the story in the Bedouin camp scene, the dialogue expressed entirely in English translations of the original Bedouin poetry. The Rawi then sings the story, again in Arabic. This three-part process is repeated as each segment of the story is presented. The tri-leveled presentation provided texture for the piece, and enabled the Arabs and the Westerners in the audience to enjoy it equally. It also exemplified three different traditional Arab art forms to the audience — storytelling, music, and poetry.

The first story opens with the young woman, Safiya (Pauline Guld), bidding her beloved (Ahmed Ahmed) farewell as he leaves on a journey. It is a forbidden love, as Safiya is expected to marry her paternal cousin, the young couple meeting in secret. The young man dies on the journey, and the secretly mourning Safiya is pressured into marrying her cousin by her family.

On her wedding night, she fakes a seizure, and the families decide that she has become possessed because of the unwanted marriage. She is divorced, and returns to her kin. In the play, her dead young lover haunts her, speaking to her as her conscience. Torn between her duty to family and her love, she expresses her feelings to the other women in poetry: “Tears increased, oh Lord. The beloved came to mind in times of sadness.”

The other story is of Mabruka (Melisse Bou-zaine), a married woman with an infant daughter, who is divorced by her husband so that he might take a new, younger bride. She pretends indifference, superficially agreeing to her husband’s plans. Later, among the women, while vehemently continuing to deny that she cares, she expresses her real feelings indirectly:

Memories stirred of the beloved

should I release, I’m flooded by them.

Oh eyes be strong

you cherish people when they’re gone.

The question has been asked, why did the play focus on lost love and unhappy marriage? The answer: because star-crossed love and loss are sources of some of the most stirring, rending forms of poetic expression.

Throughout the play, ethnomusicologist Dr. David Such wandered through the background, enhancing the play’s tone with his haunting nay music.

The expertise of a number of prominent Arab-American artists was drawn upon to create the production. Anthropologist Dr. Fadwa El Guindi selected the original material. Actors Melisse Bouzaine and Pauline Guld adapted the book to the script. Visual artist Nuha Sinno designed the Bedouin costumes and the makeup. Visual artist Hana’a Al-Wardi designed the set with deliberate simplicity, suggesting the two different settings on one stage, while keeping the audience’s attention focused on the actors. Dance ethnologist Aisha Ali provided Arab dance consultation, and ethnomusicologists Dr. A. Jihad Racy and Dr. Dwight W. Reynolds provided musical consultation. The artistic adaptation to theater was provided by director Ziad H. Hamzeh. The performance director was Deborah Roventini, a Western woman, who has never worked with Arab theater professionals before. She stated that she found this first (but not last) experience to be educative and rewarding.

One of the primary treats of the evening was the rich, compelling singing voice of the Rawi, played by Shaykh Abu Ali (stage name). He also composed all of the narrative music and lyrics. All of his songs were followed by murmurs of appreciation from the Arabs in the audience. At the end of the play, Shaykh Abu Ali sang a beautiful song that he had composed to honor Arab and American women. The writer does not understand Arabic, but the emotion in his voice and his body language clearly expressed the feeling tone of the piece. The writer was, in fact, moved to tears (which felt a little silly, given that I didn’t understand a single word of the lyrics).

The performance was followed by a lively discussion, facilitated by Dr. El Guindi, between the mixed Arab and Western audience and the artists. Most of the questions and comments focused on the anthropological dynamics behind the play.

In summary, “Qala Al-Rawi” is a little one-act jewel. The writer found the play satisfying because of its three levels of dramatic presentation and its truth to the objectives of the book. Several of the Arab audience stated that they enjoyed it because of the beautiful expression of three ancient and traditional Arab art forms.

“Qala Al-Rawi” charmed a mostly African-American audience at the African Marketplace and Cultural Fair on September 4th in West Los Angeles. The fair is an annual event featuring “diverse festivals and special presentations of music, dance art, and traditional performances that celebrate the cultures and traditions of the African diaspora.” The stated goal of the event is “to promote understanding of the African diaspora and foster and improve communication among the diverse communities of Los Angeles with respect to business, artistic and social interests and concerns.” Dr. El Guindi said, “The Arab-American community, in general, is insulated and provincialized. One objective of Funun is to forge new links and new relationships with artists and artists’ organizations of other ethnicities in the city. This will assist the Arab artists in becoming less isolated.”

"Shahrazade." Photo: Lynn Jeffries

Shahrazade

“A book without origin. A book that shamed civilization. A book that corrupts young minds. A book that speaks of desire, of lust, of decadence. I love it. Proceed.” (Richard Miro as “The Keeper.”)

Many of us grew up enchanted by the mythic Shahrazade’s tales of Oriental splendor from the “Thousand and One Nights.” According to the play notes, these ancient tales derive from Indian, Persian, and Arab sources. Some were recorded in a book of Persian fairy tales which was translated into Arabic around 850 A.D. Some date from Aramaic sources as early as the fifth century, B.C.E. The anthology was translated for Europeans by Antoine Galland in the early 1700’s. It has been suppressed in various countries, including parts of Europe and the United States at different times, and is still banned in some parts of the Middle East.

The underlying theme is the story of King Sharayar and Shahrazade. The king, having been betrayed by an unfaithful wife, vows never to be cuckolded again. Each night, he weds a young virgin. The following morning, he executes her. The clever Shahrazade contrives to marry the king. On the wedding night, she begins a story that so enthralls the king that he allows her to survive in order to finish it on the next night. Weaving one tale to the end of another, Shahrazade prolongs her life for 1,001 nights, during which time the king comes to cherish her.

Kanaaqueel, a brand-new Arab-American theater company, skillfully continues this ancient Shahrazadic storytelling tradition. The company, founded by actors Ismael Kanater and Tamadhur Al-Aqeel, produced this play in conjunction with the Cornerstone Theater Company, and the Powerhouse Theater. The script was devised by Kanater and Al-Aqeel, and the performance directed by Kanater. The theater itself has an interesting history. It was a power station for the old electric trolleys for 30 years.

These lush and fabulous Oriental tales are played against a starkly minimalist stage set. Three translucent screens and a small Oriental rug are the only props. This is an excellent device, because it allows the imaginations of the audience free rein. Very simple costumes and stylized masks delineate the various characters.

This tale-within-a-tale-within-a-tale begins with Kanater’s character, in a prison cell. Duplicating Shahrazade’s delay-and-survive device, he distracts his keeper with stories of the crafty Shahrazade’s entertainments.

Shahrazade’s first story, the Tale of the Hunchback, is illustrated in a straightforward manner by shadow puppets against a backlit screen. The skillful puppeteers, Lynn Jeffries and Linda Campanella Jauron, later tell the very funny tale of the Porter and the Three Girls of Baghdad, which, in true Shahrazade tradition, is not completed until after the intermission. Thereafter, the story segments are artfully “braided,” interweaving, separating, and doubling back upon themselves, beginnings becoming endings and endings, beginnings.

Sound confusing? It isn’t. Through this entwining, each story segment serves to enhance the others, keeping the audience at rapt attention. Ultimately, the segments evolve into a multi-hued tapestry interwoven with the themes of: 1) “Man can do more evil than the devil himself;” 2) through ignorance and shortsightedness, humankind tends to repeat the same tragic mistakes over the millennia; and, 3) through the transmission of history and allegory, the age-old tradition of storytelling might endow us with the wisdom and insight that we need to avoid perpetuating some of our terrible folly.

The various cultures from which these ancient tales are derived are reflected throughout the performance. There is Tamadhur Al-Aqeel’s beautiful and stylized Hindu “hand dance,” nearly as mesmerizing as her stories. There are Arab references and characters, Persian music, and Turkish costumes on some of the puppets. There’s even a little contemporary American influence (“Fever,” sung by Elvis Presley).

Ismael Kanater, at one point, mimes his character’s story with balletic and panther-like grace for his torturer (Richard Miro, cold and menacing in shades and battle fatigues). The story fascinates the torturer, who rewards him by sparing one of his eyes.

Which brings us to a particularly ingenious plot device. One character is woven into three stories in two time periods. In one tale, a prince (Kanater), caught by a djinn (Miro) making love to the djinn’s captive-lover (Al-Aqeel), is punished by being thrust into an unnamed contemporary Middle-Eastern country, torn by bombings and starvation over the control of oil (can we guess?). The man is captured and tortured, losing an eye. Earlier in the production, we find him at a party at an ancient palace, telling the story of his maiming.

At the end, the production brings us forward to the tragedy of modern warfare. Some of the most telling roles are the smallest roles. A touching vignette is seen in Al-Aqeel’s brief portrayal of a little boy, playing with his toys against the backdrop of a bombing raid (I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid of bombs. I’m afraid of hunger.”)

This well-crafted piece with its fine, sensitive performances, might ultimately be summarized by the words, “We hold the knife at bay — we are the storytellers. We have earned your freedom.”

Kanater and Al-Aqeel met during the production of the play “Ghurba,” a story of uprooted Arab immigrants, which inspired them to develop their own theatrical tradition. Kanater says, “We want to be able to dig into our culture in ways not done before in America. We want to share who we are with the community, to eliminate the stereotypes and cliches and show the human side of the culture. Rarely does one see a play about or including Arabs wherein Arabs are part of the creative process. It’s done in festivals and cultural events, but not in theater. We want to deal with all cultures in America — Latinos, Indians, Asians, blacks, everyone. We’d like Kanaaqeel to reflect those cultures accurately and honestly. After all, we’re living in one society, and we can and should learn about each other.”

Al-Aqeel says, “I think also that this company addresses issues that the community would rather not think about. For instance, it’s a real tragedy for some Arabs that one Arab country attacked another. Some say that it was good that America did what it did (bombed Iraq), while others say that it wasn’t. It’s split people up, and I think that it’s important that we talk about it. We want Kanaaqeel in the future to address such issues as this. The women’s issues is also a touchy subject for some, because it’s a very personal thing. And the idea that many have that all Jews and Arabs hate each other — it’s just not true. It’s important that the company break these stereotypes, because the media have been defining Arabs in very narrow terms — especially since the World Trade Center bombings. We’re trying to reach beyond this depiction of Arabs as being maniacs who hate everybody.”

The Powerhouse Theater is located at 3116 2nd Street, Santa Monica, 213/876-6134. Like all fledgling theater companies, Kanaaqeel is in need of volunteer help on several skill levels. Inquiries should be directed to 213/874-3556.

Kari Sprowl has a B.A. in Psychology and an M.A. in Rehabilitation Counseling, and is a board-certified Medical-Surgical, Rehabilitation, and Psychiatric case manager for the managed medical care industry. She is an active Oriental dancer, and a drummer for the Caravan Middle-Eastern Music Ensemble. She is an original MECDA member, and a five-time MECDA Central Board officer. She has been involved in the Middle Eastern arts community for over sixteen years, and has been a Middle-Eastern arts and culture reviewer for about a dozen periodicals on four continents. karisprowl@earthlink.net

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