culture, politics, commentary, criticism

Thursday, January 22, 2004
"...for you were a stranger..." This past weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a preview of a new play opening Friday, January 23, entitled "...for you were a stranger..."

The play tells the story of two women, an Arab and a Jew, who meet three times across the 4000-year span of their common heritage. First they meet as Sarah and Hagar, the matriarchs of the Bible; later they move to medieval Spain as daughters of the Golden Age of Muslim/Jewish culture; and finally to the modern Middle East of 1967.

What's especially notable about the play is how the experiences of motherhood and femaleness relate to the rival sibling nations of Israel and Palestine — as dramatized by the two women who, quite literally, gave birth to the Jews and to the Muslims. We see their goddess-based polytheism eclipsed by a pair of monotheisms in the form of their sons, who grow up to become both patriarchal and unkind to their mothers' feminine traditions.

The play asks us to bear witness to the women on both sides of the political/religious equation as history began to take its terrible course. As only great political plays can do, "...for you were a stranger..." transforms daunting and abstract political situations into something immediate, palpable, and human.

Actress/playwright Donna Blue Lachman collaborated on the work with Rula Sirhan Gardenier, an Arab actress and playwright who lives in Chicago. Lachman has played Frida Kahlo, Rosa Luxemburg and Peggy Guggenheim, among others, in her solo performance career. The Piven Theatre Workshop's Jennifer Green directs the piece, which is scheduled to run through March 21.

There was a preview feature in the
Chicago Sun-Times, and Tony Adler also wrote a fascinating preview piece in the Chicago Reader that I was unable to locate on their site. Next week I'll post more reviews as they come online.

Here is the show's listing at the HotHouse, where the show is being performed and where you can also buy tickets online.

The HotHouse, in case you don't know, is Chicago's greatest venue for nightclub-scale performing arts, especially world music. The HotHouse is in downtown Chicago next to the Chicago Hilton and Towers on Grant Park. With this new play they are expanding their lineup to include cutting-edge theatre.

See it!

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