We Swim 101

“We Swim, We Talk, We Go to War” at Golden Thread

“We Swim, We Talk, We Go to War” at Golden Thread

Carol Benet

We are rich in small theaters in the Bay Area.  In New York, they would call them “Off Broadway”.  We have no on-Broadway with the closest thing to it being Berkeley Rep. or A.C.T. or a few scattered Best of Broadway touring productions in run-down, cavernous theaters.

But it is the smaller theaters here that make our theater community so vibrant.  Golden Thread Productions on Portrero Hill is one these and it has a unique mission.  It encourages and performs Middle Eastern-American plays, those often neglected by the  larger audience.

Currently they are playing the world premiere of Mona Mansour’s “We Swim, We Talk, We Go to War”.  A play about a Lebanese-American middle aged woman, She (Sarah Nina Hayon), she tries to convince her twenty-some nephew He (Joshua Chessin-Yudin) the errors of his decision to join the army.

He is gung-ho.  A strong patriot who grew up in San Diego, the site of a large military population, and is committed to the military for years in order to pay back the  full scholarship he has received from it.  He is training to be a helicopter pilot that he describes as “cool”.  She is against war and especially ones that would take her nephew to fight against his relatives. He does not think that way.  He is all military think:  kill the enemy to make a better world.

They go for swims in the ocean.  You know it is in Southern California because the temperature of the water on their first swim is 72.  They get lost in the fog, but that does not stop the conversation, both of them on opposite sides of the debate.  By clever moving, they simulate swimming while two others float by pretending to swim on their rolling chairs.

One of the swimmers is The Arab (Adam El-Sharkawii) and the other The American (Tr’Vonne Bell).  These two are to represent collectively all the soldiers of their respective countries.  There is a bit of Pinter here with the imagined situations, teeming violent hatred between the characters on opposing sides and an uncanniness in the atmosphere be it in the ocean or in Lebanon.

She tries to put the idea of war, so many of them either caused or fought by  America, into perspective.  She tells him of her trip to Lebanon where she felt at home.  He, only one fourth Lebanese, has no loyalty to this country and is willing to fight anyone who opposes American ideals.  He even yells at her,  “Why are you trying to get me to doubt?”  And  “I don’t care about Lebanon”. The idea is that as a soldier, doubts will put him only in danger.

She tries to waken any bit of sympathy in him.  She even shows him slides and videos of her visit to Lebanon with images of Fairouz, the famous beautiful Lebanese singer, and of the Roman ruins at Baalbeck that make her weepy because when she went there there were only a handful of tourists.  Other tourists feared the danger of war.  She laments that the ruins, among the most perfect in existence, should be as crowded as the Colosseum in Rome.

He remains detached and spews grunt songs and sayings.  He was infuriated because someone took the “Terrorist Hunting Permit” off of his car’s bumper.  A year after the first swim, they go on another.  The water is now in the sixties and they pretend to wear wet suits, goggles and bathing caps.  While floating in the water peacefullly, he tells her that he has been deployed and she is crestfallen.

In the next scene in the Mid-East, the Arab and He fight hand to hand.  Then The American is also involved in the scene that has been excellently choreographed by fight specialist Carla Pantoja.  End of the description by this reviewer so as not to be a spoiler.

The set by Kate Boyd is simple Mona Kasra’s projections of the ocean and Lebanon.  Sound (Sara Huddleston) and lighting (Cassie Barnes) are perfect.  Movement Specialist Slater Penney keeps them swimming believably. Simple costumes by Michelle Mulholland represent the four characters, Hers in well worn jeans and a stripped polo shirt show that she is not that much older than he, at least in dressing style.

The end is a bit hokey when they ask the audience to come up on the stage and write their thoughts in chalk on the wrap-around board. Why do so many theaters ask us to come up at the end?  Is this the new normal?  “Fairview” at the Berkeley Rep did the same and I escaped by pretending to go to the bathroom to avoid this.  I guess its the same reason that Brian May of the band Queen wrote “We Will We Will Rock You”:  To get the audience or fans to participate.  At a ball game I like it, but not in the theater.

Evren Odcikin’s direction and his continued work in developing plays from Mid-Eastern American playwrights are to be commended. He collaborated with the author Mona Mansour on “We Swim, We Talk, We Go to War” for three years since its inception.  The play is based on real conversations that Mansour had with her nephew. This is the playwright’s fourth production with Golden Thread.

The location is of Golden Thread is Potrero Stage, 1695 18th Street.  Tickets from goldenthread.org.

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →