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

Award winning author & actor Osamah Sami speaks about his role in Tales of a city by the Sea, Gaza, the siege, the controversy and more…

Interview with Iranian/Australian Writer & Actor Osamah Sami by Kyriaki Maragozidis. Originally broadcast 13/6/16 Live to Air on Voiceprint Arts, Three D Radio 93.7fm in South Australia.

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To purchase tickets for Sydney show on August 3rd click here. 

 

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