“TERRITORIES” coming May 2 to Arabian Shakespeare Festival in San Francisco

Trio of Historical Characters flexes verbal and physical gamesmanship

by Susan Dunn

Photo by Henry Dodd

Saladin, Reginald and Alia in “Territories”.

Saladin, a Sultan, Reginald, a Crusader and Alia, a Veiled Woman – these three characters set off a fireworks of issues that resonate across our local and world politics today.

Previewing May 2, The Arabian Shakespeare Festival of San Francisco presents a fascinating and compelling play plucked from the annals of the Third Crusade of 1189. Playwright Betty Shamieh uses this historical backdrop to explore power politics in its many forms:  gender, religion, education, class,  to name a few.  And history shows us it’s pretty much a man’s world.  Through the ages men are exalted. While women may affect circumstances, they too often remain the nameless pawns of history. 

“Territories”  opens with each character introducing their respective place in history; Saladin, the Muslim ruler of Syria and Egypt, is world-renowned across the ages and across multiple cultures; Reginald calls himself “a footnote to a footnote” of Crusades history; and Alia, the sister of Saladin and prisoner of Reginald — and who may have initiated that third Crusade — is never identified by name, but only by gender. It would seem that we know immediately who wields the power – a setup for those predictions to be readily undercut.

Artistic Director William Brown and Producer, Suzanne Dean were drawn to this play by the verbal wit of the script, changing relationships of the three characters and their complex personalities. Their actions and reactions often surprise us and each has a unique method of playing the power game.  “It’s set in medieval times, but the issues in the play are so relevant today”, says Brown.  “There is a Romeo and Juliet aspect where you have characters so opposed by birth and culture, but their opposites ultimately boil down to just people,” says Dean.

And Playwright Shamieh intrigues us with the construct that Alia suffers from a “shaking illness” – a device that would seem to cripple her and sap her power in dealing with both her brother and her captor. But their reactions to her condition are mysterious and will be specially choreographed.

“Territories” originally premiered at the Magic Theatre in 2008, and the more intimate Royce Gallery venue seems perfect for an imaginative set design and interpretation of this play’s return to the Bay Area.

“TERRITORIES”, by Betty Shamieh, at the Arabian Shakespeare Festival,


Royce Gallery, 2901 Mariposa Street, San Francisco

Preview May 2

Performances May 3, 5, 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19.

Weekdays and Saturdays at 8:00pm.  Sundays at 2:00pm

Tickets sold at:   https://asfterritories.brownpapertickets.com/

Photo by Henry Dodd