We Swim, We Talk, We Go to War World Premiere at Potrero Stage.
We Swim, We Talk, We Go to War: Drama by Mona Mansour. Directed by Evren Odcikin. Golden Thread Productions, Potrero Stage, 1695 18th Street, San Francisco, CA. www.goldenthread.org.
November 16-December 16, 2018. (Thu-Sat at 8pm; Sun at 3pm).
We Swim, We Talk, We Go to War World Premiere at Potrero Stage. Rating:
Lebanese-American writer Mona Mansour returns to Golden Thread for her fourth production. The PR material for We Swim, We Talk, We Go to War states: “While trying to navigate the currents of the Pacific, an Arab-American woman and her nephew, who has enlisted in the military, dive into the murky waters of family, identity, and politics. . . and expands into a nuanced dialogue about what it means to be American, Arab, and Arab-American at our current moment in time.”
Mona Mansour’s thoughtful unforced dialog between two Arab-Americans seems as natural as taking a swim in charted waters. Those two are only known as 40 something year old “She” (Sarah Nina Hayon) and her nephew “He” (Joshua Chessin-Yudin) “born in 1991” who has enlisted is the Army after earning a college degree with the financial help of the R.O.T.C. The construction of play, rather the evening’s dialog is unique in that there is minimal action, a bit of audience participation allowing us to be voyeurs of semi-didactic personal ideology with questions left unanswered but implied.
“She” is anti-war and “He” believes that war is at times necessary to rid the world of tyrants thus making a better world to live in. However we are being asked to think about what allegiance Arab-Americans have to their native country even if they have not been born there. From a personal standpoint, being an American born of a Syrian (father)-Lebanese (mother) union some of the comments are very personal. First let’s begin with a conversation with my father whom I asked (before the destruction in both countries); “I’m going to Lebanon and Syria for medical meetings would you like to come with me?” Reply: “Ya shahoda, inta musnoon!” (“You are crazy!). There is nothing there for me. I am an American now.” Further my experience with the wealth abutting against poverty, squalor in the Palestinian refugee camps and the indifference of the populous creates a biased review. Yet, there is more agreement with the antiwar sentiment of “She” who obviously feels a personal attachment to Lebanon.
It is an agitprop play that strains credulity enforcing the feeling that the stated viewpoints have been expressed better in other stage productions That opinion is reinforced by strange but intriguing play construction for the 80 minutes it is on stage. A semi-circular muted green chalk-board on the rear of the stage that is used for cogent projections when “She” proves a point. Desk chairs on casters without backs are used when they are “swimming” during their quiet moments sharing opposing viewpoints with civility. Two other characters, “The American” (Tre’ Vonne Bell) and “The Arab” (Adam El-Sin) have minor roles and sit on opposite sides of the stage until it is their turn to interact with the protagonists reinforcing or refuting an expressed fact/opinion. They also mystically are able to transport “She” and “He” to the Pacific for their symbolic swim of treading water similar to the world around them.
“She” is also “taken” to Lebanon to interact with a shop keeper and travel to the Greco-Roman ruins in Balbaak. There, to the chagrin of “He” she meets a member of the Hezbollah while bemoaning the fact that no travelers come to visit the magnificent ruins. Mansour misses a chance to remind us that the Hezbollah is there because they intuitively know that Israel will not attack them and possible destroy the ruins.
Sarah Nina Hayon is the star of the show with a plethora of facial and body movements that add depth to the words that are more often ordinary conversations with unwritten subtext. Joshua Chessin-Yudin as “He” is not only a foil for Nayon as “She” but he makes you feel the sincerity that at times is banal dialog. Nayon’s stunned response to the fact “He” is being deployed is a brilliant ending leaving the audience shocked but ambivalent about the goals of the PR material.
Running time is 80 minutes without intermission.
Evren Odcikin’s direction gives adhesion to the fragmented scenes with more than a hint that the philosophy of “She” is preferable in that War is futile.
Cast: Tre’Vonne Bell as The American, Joshua Chessin-Yudin as He, Adam El-Sharkawi as The Arab, and Sarah Nina Hayon as She.
Creative Team: Hala Baki (assistant director), Cassie Barnes (lighting designer), Kate Boyd (scenic designer), Sara Huddleston (sound designer), Michelle Mulholland (costume designer), Carla Pantoja (fight choreographer), Slater Penney (movement consultant), Karen Runk (stage manager), Benjamin Shiu (assistant stage manager), Chris Swartzel (technical director), and Grisel Torres (production manager)
Kedar K. Adour, MD
Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.
He (Joshua Chessin-Yudin) and She (Sarah Nina Hayon) watch as a Fast Swimmer (Tre’VonneBell, assisted by Adam El-Sharkawi) zips by them in the ocean in Golden Thread Productions’ “We Swim, We Talk, We Go to War” at the Potrero Stage. Photo: David Allen Studio, Golden Thread Productions