(Re)Acts: Forced From Home #RefugeeCrisis
by John Stoltenberg
The event had a provocative hashtag in its title: As if to reference an emergency that is tragically trending worldwide. As if to signal the evening’s explicit link to a global community of concern. As if to declare one small innovative theater’s grappling with an epic real-world human drama.
An audience of about 75 had gathered in the Silver Spring Black Box. The occasion was the most recent in Forum Theatre’s four-year-old Re(Acts) series.
As Producing Artistic Director Michael Dove explained in his introduction, Re(Acts) presentations are intended to offer “more rapid responses to what’s happening in the world” than what ordinary theater production can achieve. Local artists are enlisted by Forum to create ten-minute works on a current issue or theme. The compiled works are then staged for one night only, Pay What You Want, on a bare stage.
Dove recited sobering statistics about the dimension of the international refugee emergency. As headlines now shout daily, that emergency has become, appallingly, a xenophobic wedge issue in right-wing U.S. politics. But as we soon understood, this conscientious evening was meant to personalize, not polemicize, the problem—to engage through performance art what Dove called “the decision to leave everything you have because of fear.”
A few highlights (see full credits below):
In between the several segments of the program, Nora Achrati performed a touching solo play by Christine Evans in seven blog posts in the voice of a young girl whose Syrian homeland had become a horror. It was as if Anne Frank had a laptop.
Performing a monologue he wrote, Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, started by interacting with the audience like a stand-up comic but then launched into what became a compelling narrative about how two parents escaped from Iran with their infant and immigrated to America. At the point the audience realized Ebrahimzadeh was that infant, it was like a stun gun to the heart.
The program’s final piece was a monodrama written and performed by Thomas Keegan. In it, Keegan portrayed a father who with his wife and child have walked 2,000 miles to escape and have no home, no money, no food. As he is interrogated by an unseen/unheard government official, we learn that this made-up story takes place in a dystopian U.S. where a military state is waging war on nonconforming citizens. There comes a point when Keegan’s character tries in agony to explain to the interrogator that his Christian faith is not the same as the fanatic extremism of Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof—and in that moment was such a powerful metaphor for the impugning of all Muslims that it seemed to take the audience’s collective breath away.
There are important truths that journalism and documentary film tell best. But there are also deep truths that only insightful and creative artists can show us, in order for us to feel them, in the unique human-to-human encounter that is live theater. And that’s what happened Monday.
It was my first experience of Re(Acts), and it will not be my last. Forum Theatre’s signature Re(Acts) series goes where theater meets real world with exceptional artistry and exemplary conviction.
Greetings from Fallujah
Written by Christina Evans
Performed by Nora Achrati
Directed by Jenna Duncan
A solo play in seven blog posts.
Return to Aleppo
By Annalisa Dias
Performed by Anna Lathrop and Rachel Hynes
Co-Directed by Anna Lathrop and Annalisa Dias
A playlet in which two women decide to leave Aleppo in the night after the 2013 bombings that destroyed much of Aleppo’s Old City during the ongoing Syrian Civil War.
Choreography by Kathy Gordon
Performed by K. G. Dance Company Dancers
A dance in which a couple, in the aftermath of leaving the life they know and love, are both brought closer and torn apart.
Written and performed by Maboud Ebrahimzadeh
The story of an Iranian immigrant’s search for identity, in vignettes from his family’s journey to America and his own 25 years later.
Conceptualized and choreographed by Kely King/Contradiction Dance
Performed by Eleni Grove, Jessica Denson, Kelly King.
An audience-participation movement experience to build empathy for refugees as well as those who may be asked to open their hearts and homes in the midst of violence and turmoil.
Written and performed by Thomas Keegan
A father imagines himself, his family, anad his country as though they were Syrian.
Running Time: About one hour 50 minutes with no intermission. (As is usual with Forum Theatre performances, there was a facilitated discussion afterward.)