ReOrient is an exceptional evening by Golden Thread at Potrero Stage.

(l-r) Laerence Radecker as Peter, Jessica Lea Risco as Bridget, Atosa Babaoff as Fay and Bella Warda as Dina in “Thanksgiving at Khodabakhshian’s”: ReOrient 2017 at Potrero Stage.

ReOrient: 2017 Festival of Short Plays. Golden Thread Middle East Center Stage, Potrero Stage (formerly Thick House), 1695 18th Street, San Francisco, CA.: boxoffice@goldenthread.org.  or call 415.626.4061  November 17–December 10, 2017

ReOrient is an exceptional evening by Golden Thread at Potrero Stage. Rating: ★★★★☆

Every two years Golden Thread Theatrical Group selects short plays from or about the Middle East and they are given world premiere productions. This year they have mounted six eclectic plays and one tone poem selected by committee from a total of 79 submissions from 14 countries. The newly renovated 99 seat Potrero Stage is their permanent home and they make full use of the upgraded technology creating professional performances. An ensemble of seven excellent actors, of which there are three members of Equity, play all the roles under the guidance of experienced directors. 

The opening play War on Terror by E.H. Benedict directed by Sara Razavi is studded with humor depicting a very serious situation of going through airport security.  Consider a stubborn non-English speaking Arab mother dressed in layers of traditional garb and her frustrated husband being harassed by a security agent insisting on a strip search because of their nationality and in the name of “war on terror.”  Fortunately one of the security agents is level headed and the weary travelers just might catch their connecting flight.

A is for Ali by Sevan K. Greene directed by Sara Razavi is a quiet bitter-sweet non-violent squabble between a Middle-Eastern husband and wife selecting a name for their soon to be born child (sex unknown). It is not a matter of “What’s in a name?” but how would an Arabic name be perceived in our present day culture. Their exchanges are very cogent, at times funny but always thoughtful with serious overtones.

Manar by Melis Aker directed by Erin Gilley is a gut wrenching drama involving a dysfunctional American family that is not clearly defined with two storylines sharing the same stage at different time periods. Be prepared to be confused. Eventually the pieces partially fit together with the horrific possibility that a mother recognizes her missing son as a Jihadist from an ISIS computer video.  Violence is graphic and the intermission is needed to clear your mind for the second half of the evening.

Make No Mistake by Betty Shamieh, directed by Susannah Martin is beautifully choreographed with words with nary a single dance step. The two female characters, one dressed in Arabic clothing (Amal) and the other in American dress (Amy) enter and sit in chairs with a dressing table between them. They never face each other and have separate monologs that intertwine with similarities and differences. Amal is the young wife of Osama Bin Ladin and Amy is the mistress of an American president. It is a fascinating concept that requires your full attention.

The Rehearsal by Hannah Khalil directed as a farce by Evren Odcikin. There are three on-stage characters and one off-stage voice.  They are rehearsing a political play with different scripts written to satisfy censors. The stage action is frenetic and the words non-meaningful but the actors have a ball leaving the audience as confused as their entrance and exits using the same words for each rehearsal scene.

Interspersed with the plays is Shelter stage soundscape with poetry by Junichi P. Semitsu adapted by Torange Yeghiazarian and Jame Ard. It is described as “An audio love poem from Hiroshima to Beirut to one mixed-race couple’s intertwined destinies.” It is very compelling and expertly narrated.

The evening ends on a high-note with Thanksgiving at Khodabakhsian’s  by Golden Thread’s Artistic Director Torang Yeghiazarian and beautifully directed by Susannah Martin. Mother and daughter have escaped from Iran living conventionally in America have invited a neighbor couple for Thanksgiving dinner. As is the usual custom the hostess insists that the couple take home left-overs. As the conversation is initially banal, politics and the Trump election is interjected and becomes argumentative. The interchange brings out some serious past events that leads to an understanding between the hosts and their guest.

ReOrient 2017 is a should see performance that is handsomely staged with multiple doors hanging or standing on all parts of the stage being very symbolic of everything or nothing and cleverly used by the directors and actors as props as well as for entrance and exits. The use of graphics is judiciously used.

ENSEMBLE CAST:  Atosa Babaoff’, Lawrence Radecker, Mohamed Chakmakchi, Jessica Lea Risco, Naseem Etemad, Bela Warda, Stephen Kanaski.

PRODUCTION TEAM: Directors,    Erin Gilley, Susannah Martin, Evren Odeikin Sara Razavi, Torange Yeghiazarian. Scenic Designer, Kate Boyd; Lighting Designer, Cassie Barnes; Sound Designer, James Ard; Costume Designer, Brooke Jennings; Properties Designer, Grisel Torres, Projection Designer, Erin Gilley; Makeup Designer,            Kenan Arun; Graphic Designer, Navid G. Maghami; Technical Director, Beckett Finn; Stage Manager, Karen Runk; Assistant Stage Manager, Benjamin Shin; Production Assistants, Apollonia, Keith Arcuragi; Costume Assistant, Kathleen Qu; Box Office Associate, Niku Sharei

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com