By Leila Buck, Kia Corthron, Israel Horovitz, Anne Nelson, Heather Raffo, Betty Shamieh and Beau Willimon
Produced by Back House Productions and Cherry Lane Theatre
Reviewed Thursday, August 17
By Nancy Vitale
About a month ago, playwright Beau Willimon extended his own kind of olive branch to Cherry Lane to counter the most recent war in the Middle East. He wanted to provide New York theatre artists an opportunity to channel their angst into a nearly two-hour staged reading of The Middle East, in Pieces, seven dramatic short plays that ranged from the satirical to the deeply personal. The company of talented writers, actors, directors and collaborators sought the human behind the inhumanity in the struggle, and what emerged overall was a human face, an Arab face that lusted and feared and lost.
Many of the emerging and established writers who participated avoided the pedantic, the melodramatic and the stereotypical. The two excerpts from Betty Shamieh and Heather Raffo, for example, convincingly captured the female Arab and explored the power of the women in Arab culture. Original pieces included Beau Williomon’s charming epistolary play, Dog River, in which lovers communicate via email as the hope that they will see each other again and the even more remote possibility of peace crumble around them. Kia Corthron’s Power Lunch delights and exasperates as Condi and Hillary flee their lunch date when their rhetoric fails them, and they are unable to adequately respond to their Lebanese waitress.
The highlight of the evening came from Israel Horovitz’s Beirut Rocks in which the writer populated his poignant and hilarious story with the most clichéd personalities on the world stage. Disguised as frightened American college students awaiting deliverance from a hotel in besieged Beirut, the characters threaten to destroy one another before whistling bombs outside their windows can do the job.
Enabled by a stellar cast of actors and directors who focused on communicating the intentions of the writers, the readings successfully expressed the importance of words amidst the seemingly irreconcilable conflicts raging in the Middle East. And happily, it was more entertaining than reading the op-ed page.
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.