Straits Times Review: Australian play about Gaza a ‘memorable production’

A story of love and two countries

BY SUBHADRA DEVAN – 22 JANUARY 2017 @ 3:27 PM

It’s the poetry in the language of Tales of A City By The Sea that ensnares your imagination as the play unfolds its bittersweet love story, writes Subhadra Devan WITH a cadence that ebbs like the whoosh of the sea, we hear but don’t see the linear narrative of a girl in love with a boy across the oceans. But it captures the mind, and engages the emotions. It feels like an honest telling by a Palestinian-Australian-Canadian playwright Samah Sabawi, of what it means to live in a besieged city, in this case Palestine.

On the small stage at Theatre KuAsh, Pusat Kreatif Kanak Kanak Tuanku Bainun in Taman Tun Dr Ismail, KL, we hear Jomana (played by Helana Sawires), who lives in Palestine, speak of her life and love for family and country. The budding poet has fallen for a Palestinian-American doctor, Rami (Osamah Sami) , who had used the “Free Gaza” boats way back in August 2008 to help his ancestral country.

Jomana is playing chaperone to her cousin Lama (Raja Emina Ashman), who is being courted by Ali (Reece Vella). As they wait for Ali, Jomana lashes out at the young and privileged on the Free Gaza boats whom, she claims, is treating their protest against the occupation as the in-thing to do. We hear how Jomana’s family members are on the other side of the wall, and she and her father hasn’t seen them for decades. As her love for Rami grows, soon enough he has to return home but he promises to come back to her. He uses an “underground tunnel” that connects Gaza to Egypt, with the help of Ali.

The war-torn lovers Skype amid bombings and gunfire; but Lama’s family perishes, and she swears to go on living. There is a wedding scene that livens up the 200-odd audience to no end, in this play that spans a year of Jomana’s life. Throughout the 90-minute play, an ethereal “Spirit of Gaza” (played by Tria Aziz) wanders in and out, singing Arabic songs that tug at the heart with its notes of longing and sadness. There are no surtitles to help in direct translation of the songs, which is a shame, for here is a moving story with layers of discourse.

On the surface, this is a love story, then of a country with a heartsick diaspora abroad. It is also about survival. Malaysians generally have little experience of war, bombings of cities, or even refugees for that matter. One does not meet the refugee diaspora unless as part of work or if one were to go out of the way to do so, perhaps with an non-governmental organisation. As for the Palestinian crisis, what does the average Malaysian know of it? So, Tales Of A City By The Sea is fascinating for its glimpse of what it means for a people to be in a war, and a refugee of a war-torn place. The humanity portrayed is inspiring, yet heartrending. These are a brave people, you feel.

MEMORABLE PRODUCTION

This production is aided by a simple set of a stage, with white and red sheets hung on cable wires, which prove effective in the changing of scenes. One memorable moment is when Rami’s mum and Jomana’s dad are discussing their children’s love, in their respective countries, with their offsprings, on the same stage, separated only by a twist of a cloth on the table. The cast also did not disappear from the stage after their scenes. Instead, they sit next to it, albeit in darkness. There were occasions when that kind of an exit did not work because the scene was too emotional. For instance, Lama learns she has lost her family and weeps in Ali’s arms. The scene ends, and she exits the stage to sit at the sidelines. You too need to collect your own rollercoasting emotions, with the abrupt reminder that it’s just a play.

The award-winning play from Australia carries well due in no small part to the cast, some of whom enjoy multiple roles. On a jarring note, as most of them had distinctive Australian accents, except for Raja Emina, one wonders if it was necessary for Rami to take on a southern American one for the play. It is, after all, imaginative in production, and the accent did drop off on some instances. That said, Sawires as Jomana is an emotive actor, commanding the stage whenever she appears despite her slight frame. While Raja Emina brought forth the vivaciousness of Lama, I found Vella the most memorable actor. He brought charisma to his role of Ali, the man who can find ways to survive and be happy. His cajoling of Lama is simply winsome, while the happiness at the wedding, plainly believable. The realistic sound effects lent dramatic nuance to an already deeply-moving tale, which had no happily-ever-after ending. We are instead confronted by Rami being questioned for entering Gaza illegally, although he cries that it has something to do with his “brown skin”, and Jomana is left wondering about his release, if ever. With that, the audience is left to ponder about freedom and justice, and its modern concepts. It makes you ask yourself, what you would do in such situations. Such conversations that prompt thought are always good artistic ventures, and in this case, theatre.

Read More : http://www.nst.com.my/news/2017/01/206306/story-love-and-two-countries

Tales of a City by the Sea: Malaysia 2017 Creative Team

In collaboration with KuAsh Theatre Malaysia, our award winning Australian production Tales of a City by the Sea is pleased to announce its first Malaysian tour January 2017.

Our creatives come from diverse backgrounds including Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Malta, Malaysia, Thailand, Italy, Bengal, India, Chile and the UK. We have people of various faiths including the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths. Our play is a celebration of the power of inclusivity and a testimony to breaking down cultural and racial barriers!

Playwright Samah Sabawi

SamahSabawiSamah Sabawi is an award winning poet and playwright.  Her play Tales Of A City By The Sea (Currency Press 2016) enjoyed a sold-out premiere season at La Mama in 2014, a second sold out season in 2016 and was staged to full houses and standing ovations at Sydney’s Casula Powerhouse and Adelaide’s Bakhouse Theatre in 2016.  Its Arabic premiere was staged at Alrowwad’s Cultural Theater Society in Palestine in 2014. Tales of a City by the Sea was selected for the 2016 VCE Drama Playlist and has won two Drama Victoria awards for best new Australian publication for VCE And best performance by a theatre company for VCE.  Sabawi’s poems feature in WITH OUR EYES WIDE OPEN  (West End Press 2014) and  GAZA UNSILENCED  (Just World Books 2015) amongst other poetry books.  She is co-editor of Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas for the Playwrights Canada Press. Her most recent book I Remember My Name, edited by Vacy Vlazna and co-authored with poets Ramzy Baroud and Jehan Bseiso (Novum 2016)  won the 2016 Palestine Book Awards creative category.  Samah is a policy analyst for Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian policy network . She has been named cultural ambassador for the Melbourne Theatre Company and Multicultural Arts Victoria’s 2017 MTC-CONNECT program and is a PhD candidate and recipient of the Australian Post Graduate Award at Victoria University.

Original Direction Lech Mackiewicz

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Lech Mackiewicz is a Polish director, playwright, and actor. He formed Auto Da Fe Theatre Company in Sydney in 1987. He specialises in creating intercultural collaborative performance, having directed theatre in Poland, Japan, China, Korea, and Australia. Lech’s directing credits include: Felliniana (Belvoir St Theatre); King Lear (Playbox Theatre); Kafka Tanczy (Teatr Zydowski); Beckett in Circles (Suzuki Company of Toga); An Oak Tree (Teatr Wegierki); The Hour Before My Brother Dies (Teatr Jaracza); and Everyman and the Pole Dancers (Metanoia Theatre). He is a graduate of the National Academy of Theatrical Arts (PWST) in Cracow, and the University of Technology Sydney.

Director Wahibe Moussa

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Wahibe Moussa is an award-winning performance maker, and writer. In 2007, Wahibe received the Green Room Award for her role as “Mahala” in Theatre @ Risk’s production of Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul. In 2014 she was one of ten dramaturgy interns at Melbourne Theatre Company, a Playwriting Australia Fellowship initiative. Wahibe’s practice is informed by her own experiences as a migrant child, her collaborations with Refugee Artists, and a commitment to understanding Indigenous performance and story making practices. This is Wahibe’s directorial debut.

Producer and Set Designer Lara Week

Lara WeekLara Week is a designer for performance and creative producer. Her design credits include: NaGL: Not a Good Look (Metanoia Theatre), Between Heaven and Her (La Mama Theatre), and The Conference of the Birds (Centre for Cultural Partnerships). Since 2011, she has been associate producer for Tribal Soul Arts, producing decolonial arts programs and performances in Africa, Europe, and Australia. She is dedicated to creating spaces where people with different skills and perspectives can share ideas and produce work together.

Production and Stage Manager Max Schollar-Root

head shot.jpgFrom his roots in The Australian Theatre for Young People and the NSW Performing Arts Unit State Drama Ensemble, Max Schollar-Root found his passion in musical performance and composition while studying at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. He works as a band leader with Ungus Ungus Ungus, a theatrical and multi-modal performance project combining live music, technology, and dance, presenting nationally at large-scale festivals. As a Registered Music Therapist trained at The Melbourne Conservatorium of Music he runs early childhood music programs and works with adults with intellectual disabilities.

Lighting Design Shane Grant

Shane GrantShane Grant has been Audio Visual Technician for St Kevin’s College for the past nine years. Previously, he was Production Manager with Strange Fruit and Technical Manager at Gasworks Theatre. Shane is an accomplished lighting designer having worked extensively with companies like Ranters Theatre, The Torch Project, NYID, La Mama and many others. Shane has a BA Dramatic Arts (Production) VCA from 1994. He sits on the Green Room Awards Association Theatre Companies Panel. Shane is currently an artistic director at Metanoia Theatre and the Technical Manager of the Mechanics Institute theatre in Brunswick.

Helana Sawires – Jomana

Helana SawiresFrom a large, creative Egyptian family, Helana Sawires has always lived within the realm of the arts. Early on Helana developed a love for percussion, very much influenced by her father. Since graduating from Newtown High School of the Performing Arts (2011), Helana’s projects include: Short and Sweet Theatre Festival; Banana Boy (upcoming short); and W.O.W Casula Kid’s Festival (storyteller/drumming workshop). Helana landed her first major film role in 2015 in Ali’s Wedding (Matchbox Pictures). She was accepted into the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in NYC (2014), completing a Chekhov Intensive Course, which further influenced her unique expression across all forms of art.

Osamah Sami – Rami

Osamah SamiOsamah Sami is a failed cricketer and a struggling Muslim. His memoir Good Muslim Boy was Highly Commended at the Victorian Premiere’s Literary Awards. He also co-wrote Ali’s Wedding, Australia’s first Muslim Rom-Com, and co-created the Web Series Two Refugees and a Blonde. Lead roles in films include Ali’s Wedding, Journey, 10 Terrorists! and Saved. TV roles include: Kick, East West 101, Rush, Sea Patrol, City Homicide and Jack Irish. He has performed at Belvoir St, MTC, La Mama and a dozen independent houses. His role as “Amor” in MTC’s I Call My Brothers earned him a Green Room nomination for Best Lead Actor.

Emina Ashman – Lama

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Emina is a Malaysian-Australian actor and theatre-maker currently based in Melbourne. She is a 2014 acting graduate of the Victorian College of the Arts. Her VCA credits include: Julie Bishop in Lucky Country (as part of VCA’s FRISK Festival (Melbourne Fringe 2014), Lizard Woman in Plus Sign Attached (dir. Maude Davey), Irina in The Three Sisters (dir. Melanie Beddie), The Fox in The Little Prince (dir. Angus Templeton). Other theatre credits outside VCA include Antonia D’Agostino in Bock Kills Her Father (dir. Penny Harpham, La Mama Theatre), Lama in Tales of a City by the Sea (dir. Wahibe Moussa, La Mama Courthouse, Bakehouse Theatre) and The Girl in Roberto Zucco (La Mama Theatre, Alliance Francaise Melbourne). She has recently completed a creative writing diploma, specialising in writing for theatre and poetry.

Majid Shokor -Abu Ahmad 

Majid Screen Shot 2016-11-25 at 2.21.49 pm.pnghas been acting for over 30 years. He also directed whilst teaching drama in Lebanon for four years and written his own works. He has won many awards in his home country of Iraq and has been a member of the Iraqi National Theatre Company, and was a long-time member of the Iraqi Theatre Artists Syndicate. Since arriving in Australia in September 2001, Majid has appeared in many plays in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide including, Kan Yama Kan directed by Robin Laurie. Getting in directed by Jean-Pierre Mignon, Subclass26A directed by Bagryana Popov at 45 Downstaires for which he got Green Room Best Actor Award nomination 2005, Between Heaven and Her, directed by Lech Mackiewicz at LaMam, Homebody /Kabul by Tony Kushner directed by Chris Bendal, Theatre@ risk company, Tales of A City By The Sea, Directed by Lech Mackiewicz at LaMama and The Cove season, 8 short plays by Daniel Keen and directed by Matt Scholton presented at the Dog Theatre, for which he got another Green Room Best Actor Award nomination 2009. Majid was also seen at Belvoir St Theatre in The Cool Room which was presented by Performing Lines and In Our Name, a play Written and directed by Nigel Jamieson and was presented by company B.  His screen credits include an actor and cultural consultant in the feature films Ali’s Wedding and Lucky Miles and guest roles in City Homicide and Rush channel 7 & 9.  Majid has also made a documentary film with Marsha Emerman about Iraqi music called, On The Banks Of The Tigris, which was screened in many international films festivals around the world and won many awards including Best Documentary Film at Baghdad International Film Festival in 2015.  Majid holds a Master degree in Community Cultural Development with honor degree from Victorian Collage of the Arts VCA / Melbourne University.

Reece Vella – Ali

Reece VellaReece Vella graduated from The Actors College of Theatre and Television in Sydney (2010) and has been acting professionally for the past six years. Check out his Star now if you are into name-dropping. He harbours a passion for new, eccentric and challenging work. Since moving to Melbourne, Reece’s stage credits include: Everyman and The Pole Dancers; Tales of a City by the Sea; Between Heaven and Her; and most recently Night Sings Its Songs. Reece is elated and moved that a remount of Tales of a City by the Sea has taken life, confirming his everlasting hope in stories of humanity.

Rebecca Morton – Samira

Rebecca Morton

Rebecca Morton has been singing and acting all around Australia for longer than she cares to admit, from opera to music theatre to Shakespeare and Noel Coward with state theatre companies. She writes and tours highly portable, one act music theatre shows, and recently joined Alchemy 7, a group of artists who create a fusion of sculpture and song. She is also working with a new company, RAPt, which connects people through theatre. She is absolutely delighted and proud to be part of this very exciting and important play.

Cara Whitehouse – Multiple Roles

Cara WhitehouseClassically trained, Cara Whitehouse has played roles in children’s puppetry to the Greeks, working in Melbourne and Singapore. Recent work includes Tales of a City by the Sea (La Mama 2014), Remember M with innātum Theatre, The Woman in the Window, and “Elektra” in The Oresteia. Cara’s film work includes multiple shorts with a web series in development. A certified Fitzmaurice Voicework teacher, Cara’s training encompasses Conservatory Actor training at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, Knight-Thompson speech work (NYC) and continued training at the Howard Fine Acting Studio.

Ubaldino Mantelli – Multiple Roles

Ubaldino Mantelli

Ubaldino was in the 2014 Melbourne premiere of Tales… at La Mama in Melbourne as well as the 2016 remount and tour. He’s played major theatrical roles in the Geelong region, including performing for the National Trust and in the ensemble-devised Daylight Savings, led by James Pratt. Ubaldino trained under Kerreen Ely-Harper, Stephen Costan, Jenny Lovell, Danielle Carter, Karen Davitt and Nicky Fearn in the VCA Acting Studio 12. He’s been a producer, presenter and performer on community radio. In 2016, Ubaldino was in the short film Sick Home as well as Broun’s War/Kiss for PlaySix Festival and Laurence Strangio’s adaptation of Duras’ Destroy, She Said for La Mama Explorations in Melbourne.

Tria Aziz – Singer

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A multi-award winning singer and entertainer, Tria has been performing on the musical stage for 12 years. She has been in more than 20 productions, performing mostly English Musicals. Some of her memorable performances include “DanSing” Thru Broadway, “Kurang Manis”, “Adam The Musical”, “Shout The Mod Musical”, “1Sex 1Money 1Scandal”, “The Edge” (for which she won the BOH Cameronian Arts Award for Best Musical Performer 2014), “The Wizard of Oz”, “Aladdin A Musical Comedy” and most recently, “One Thousand Million Smiles, A Musical Tribute to Sudirman ~ Asia’s Best Performer”. In 2007, she sung a soundtrack for a local award-winning Malaysian movie “Waris Jari Hantu”. She also lends her voice for various Malaysian cartoon dubbing projects, most of which have been aired on Astro. Tales of a City by the Sea will be her first international production venture in which she will be singing in Arabic, also a first for this multi-talented artist.

In Daily Review: Fine theatre well worth watching!

“Tales of a City by the Sea’ is a perceptive story that magnificently captures the drama of star-crossed lovers in the besieged Gaza strip.”

Stephen Davenport

In Daily – Adelaide’s independent news

This is wide-eyed saga of everyday Palestinians struggling to survive and find normality, hope and love in a region affected by hostility. It is an oddly poetic tale, whose complexity and subtleties of differing narrative viewpoint are maintained by axioms, a strong multi-cultural ensemble and superb lead performances.

Samah Sabawi’s script has received widespread acclaim for its insight into Palestinian life. The playwright’s remarkable sensitivity and artistry confers enormous authority on this portrayal of a beleaguered people.

The play focuses on Jomana (Helena Sawires), a Palestinian woman living in a refugee camp, and depicts life under the Israeli bombardment and siege. She is chaperone to her cousin Lama (Emina Ashman), who is unhappily engaged to Ali (Reece Vella).

When Rami (Osamah Sami), an American-born Palestinian doctor, arrives on the “Free Gaza” boats in August 2008, he and Jomana fall in love. When it is time to leave, Rami promises to sell his clinic in America and return to Jomana and his ancestral homeland.

The play gives us a prophetic flavour of the way people can culturally, politically, ideologically and physically be separated. There are sharp, pertinent scenes in which the lovers speak over Skype and renew their promises. But will the pair live happily ever after?

This play stands or falls by its love affair between the thoroughly decent Texan doctor, Rami, and the poetically romantic Jomana. And this love affair has all the passion of desperate people in desperate times and precarious situations. Sawires is well cast; she puts presence into every scene and bounces well off Sami, who brilliantly portrays an American caught between multiple loyalties. Read more…

 

 

Weekend Note Review: a poetic story of resilience

by Julia Wakefield

Following its sold out premiere Melbourne season in 2014, Tales of a City by the Sea opened at The Bakehouse Theatre this week. The author is Palestinian/Australian/Canadian writer Samah Sabawi. She describes her work as ‘a poetic journey into the ordinary lives of people living in abnormal circumstances and their struggle to survive’.

The play grew out of a collection of poetry that Sabawi wrote while she was in Gaza during the three week bombardment of 2008/2009, prompted by her own experiences and those of her friends and family. She says she is not trying to put across a political message. Although this is a story based on real life events that took place during Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2008, its main purpose is to highlight the resilience and compassion that people display in such dire circumstances. In this current era of global conflict and confusion, there are many places featured in news bulletins that are enduring similar situations. Sabawi wants us to see ‘the detail of daily lives of people they see for brief seconds on the news’.

The play was originally directed by Lech Mackiewicz, and the current director is Wahibe Moussa. When it opened in Melbourne the plan was to have two simultaneous performances on the West Bank and in Gaza. The play was performed on the West Bank a week later; the script has been read in Gaza but as yet there has been no opportunity to perform the play there.

In the main characters of the play, Jomana and Rami, we see another theme: the gulf between the Palestinian diaspora (those whose families escaped from Gaza and who have grown up in an affluent, privileged society), and the same generation who remain trapped in Gaza. Jomana lives in Gaza, Rami is a doctor raised in Texas by refugee Palestinian parents. They are in love, but in order to enter each other’s world they have no choice but to abandon their families and the reality they grew up in.

The play ideally suits the intimate atmosphere of the Bakehouse Theatre. Scenes are evoked with the simplest of props, and Sabawi’s poetry slips seamlessly into the characters’ dialogue, serving to highlight emotional moments. In some places it appears as a passionate soliloquy, as in Rami’s heart rending speech “what price a life?” But it is also there in the play’s frequent humorous moments, such as the Dr Zeuss style banter that Rami exchanges with his mother. This reference to a familiar Western poetic style serves to emphasize the gap between Rami’s and Jomana’s upbringing. We realise that Rami, in spite of his heritage, has more experience in common with the audience than he has with Jomana. The contrast is cleverly portrayed in a particularly riveting scene where Jomana is conversing with her father in Gaza, while Rami is simultaneously speaking to his mother in Texas, on either side of a dining table.. Read more

The Barefoot Review: a poetically beautiful discerning and honest examination of life in Gaza

David O’Brien

The Barefoot Review

Where there is a wall, there is also a city its inhabitants call home in the sacred and emotional way expected of communities deeply attached to their history and culture; especially those coping with just over half a century of war in all its guises and forms, greater or lesser, challenging their right to exist.

Samah Sabawi’s Tales of a City by The Sea is poetically beautiful, discerning and honest in its examination of life in Gaza.

No angry, politicised, locked in sensationalism to be found here, despite what has been said of this work during 2016. Sabawi’s play is an astutely balanced, modern appraisal of what it means to live as a Palestinian under siege.  Read more…

Adelaide Theatre Guide Review: A gripping piece of theatre that begs to be seen and heard

Tony Busch

Adelaide Theatre Guide

June 11, 2016

This is a tale of conflict and survival told principally through the stories of two couples during the 2008 Gaza war.

Jomana (Helen Sawires) is a Palestinian journalist in Gaza who meets American born Palestinian doctor, Rami, (Osamah Sami) who arrives on board one of small boats that breaks the Israeli blockade.

Ali (Reece Vella) and Lama (Emina Ashman) are residents of Gaza. He loves her but she’s unsure whether to marry him or not.

The play traces the development of these two relationships amid the death and destruction that is everyday life in Gaza.

Samah Sabawi has created a potent narrative that brims with raw examples of the reality of living under a hostile authority. She explores relationships and family values in a place where people fight to retain some sense of normality amid the daily death toll; where “funerals and weddings have become part of daily life”.   Read more