Academics Praise Precious Stones / by R. Sheth

November 10, 2003
DePaul University

Jamil Khoury's Precious Stones has garnered accolades and praise from professors in various disciplines. The list continues to grow!

"Precious Stones breaks new ground on a number of levels as theatrical art and social commentary. This story of love between two activists, a Palestinian woman and a Jewish-American woman, deftly tackles two explosive issues in the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict and the struggle for recognition of lesbians and gay men. The play suggests that perhaps one way out of the current hopelessness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to explore the need for recognizing the "other" at all levels, not just in the realms of politics, religion, and ethnicity, but also in the arenas of gender and sexuality."

-Dr. Janet Afary
President of the Association for Middle East Women's Studies
Associate Professor of History and Women's Studies
Purdue University

"Precious Stones is one of the best plays I've seen. It deals with politics in an inclusive, sophisticated, and humorous way. Race, class, sexuality, gender, religion and ethnicity are addressed in a context that shows them to be in a constitutive relationship with one another—not just "intersecting" or "overlapping" categories that exist independently of one another. It is fast-paced and informative. The production is innovative performatively. See it, and tell your students to see it!"

-Dr. Tina Chanter
Professor of Philosophy
DePaul University

"Precious Stones is a brave play and testament to Khoury's intellectual integrity. It manages to simultaneously be plain-spoken, funny, and complex. Most importantly, it brilliantly exposes students to multiple and overlapping perspectives on sexuality and relationships — both human and political — in the layered context of the Israel/Palestine conflict."

-Dr. Anthony Chase 
Assistant Professor in Diplomacy & World Affairs
Occidental College

"Precious Stones helped bridge students' academic pursuits with their co-curricular experiences and provoked interest among students, staff and faculty alike in renewing the Jewish-Arab dialogue group on campus. By illustrating complex history and companion analysis through the interrelationship of many characters, the performance pointed to the importance of honest, open discussion as a method to achieving greater understanding of one's self, others, and historical "truth." This is very much in keeping with Georgetown's Jesuit tradition."

-Erika Cohen Derr 
Director of Orientation and Leadership Programs
Georgetown University

"I thought Precious Stones was a remarkable theatrical experience. It's seldom that issues of class and gender and sexuality are so compellingly interwoven—and set in the context of the Middle East. I was drawn in, completely, to the way in which the demands for serious political action are considered across the spectrum of our social and private being."

-Dr. Norma Field
Professor, East Asian Languages & Civilizations
The University of Chicago

"Over 500 people turned out at our university for a remarkable performance of Jamil Khoury's Precious Stones. The event attracted an extraordinarily diverse audience, both from on campus and off. Thus before it had even begun the play achieved one of its primary goals, which is to bring people together for tough and honest (and sometimes hilarious) dialogue about politics, culture, and sexuality. While highly entertaining, the play manages to educate the audience in substantial detail about the issues dividing the Jewish and Palestinian communities, as well as illuminating debates about class and race that divide gay and lesbian people. It's an ideal play to bring to a college campus, especially when the surrounding community can be brought into the conversation."

-Dr. Gregory Jay 
Director, Cultures and Communities Program
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

"Jamil Khoury is an avant-garde artist with heightened sensitivities for political and social issues. I read Precious Stones and saw it performed twice. What interested me, besides its dramatic power, is its depth, balance, and understanding of the human condition. As a professor of sociology, I recommend Precious Stones highly to faculty and students alike, and to the wider public. Jamil Khoury is an Arab Brecht in the making."

-Dr. Baheej Khleif
Professor of Sociology
Columbia College of Chicago

"Precious Stones is a work of art and a labor of love. The actors, the dialogue, and dialects, are creatively woven to create a rich tapestry of a world that is both known and unknown to those of us fortunate enough to have attended this performance. It is through Precious Stones that we have an opportunity to hear the voices and feel the passion of those with a deep and intimate understanding of what it means to be female, lesbian, working class, Palestinian, Jewish, political, inclusive, excluded, old, and young. Jamil Khoury's brilliant discourse reminds us of the humanity and the struggles that continue to dominate Middle East and U.S. politics. Tinged with lively humor, and a cast of 2 women playing 3 roles each (the cocktail party scene at Leila's and Samir's house is great fun!) Precious Stones is an incredible journey - something that one must experience - not
just see."

-Dr. Regina Lark 
Assistant Director
UCLA Center for the Study of Women

"Our audience found Precious Stones to be quite thoughtful. It opened an important artistic window on issues of great concern to many of our students. In addition to the content of the play, our students found the writing and acting to be exceptional. While Jamil Khoury's work touched more than a few nerves, his facilitation of the post-performance discussion was outstanding. We are proud to have been the first Jewish institutional venue to host this play.

- Dr. Hal M. Lewis 
Dean Of Public Programming and Associate Professor
Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies

"Precious Stones is truly a ministry. It puts the audience in touch with the divine through human experience, human experience that is gritty, funny, unpredictable, beautiful, and sacred. Prepare to be challenged and awed."

-Dr. Michael Maher
Chaplain
Loyola University Chicago

"Jamil Khoury is truly a remarkable playwright. Not only does Precious Stones provide a worthwhile evening of art and entertainment, but it effectively explores many social topics, some considered taboo, in both Arab and Jewish societies. The subjects of gender and sexuality portrayed in the play beautifully express the sometimes wrenching decisions people of Middle East origin daily contemplate, whether they remain in the Middle East or are part of a community in the United States."

-Dr. William Rowe Mellon
Post-Doctoral Fellow in Geography
Macalester College

"Precious Stones dares to show the full intelligence and well-spoken passion of women equally dedicated to cultural survival. It is timely in placing homophobia in the mix as a complication of justice in peoples striving toward democracy. Academic, spiritual and activist communities should join in coalition to see this play!"

-Dr. Bonnie J. Morris 
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Women's Studies
Georgetown University

"Precious Stones is a masterful piece of theater that forces you to reflect on the nature of conflict and on the incredible complexity of the particular conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. It is, of course, an especially timely production. The actors, with astonishing agility, move from one character to another, playing multiple roles and plunging into the emotional turmoil of a personal relationship developing within a hostile context. The history, cultures and environment are as full of despair as they are of hope. Current events, and the knowledge of them within the audience, move you in the direction of wondering if there is a solution to the confrontation that goes on and on. Precious Stones is thought provoking and riveting."

-Dr. Margaret D. Pusch 
Executive Director
Society of Intercultural Educators, Researchers, and Trainers (SIETAR)

"Precious Stones is an ideal vehicle for engaging students about the complexity of the Middle East conflict, and the interconnectedness of the personal and political. I have seen the play three times, and each time I found myself connecting to different aspects of the story. I realize how little I know about the Middle East. I am compelled to consider the sometimes-fraught issues endemic to organizing between women, gay and straight. And I am reminded how important it is to seek out alternative sources of information."

-Dr. Francesca Royster
Associate Professor of English
De Paul University

"Jamil Khoury's play Precious Stones is an important contribution to current theater and literature. Precious Stones brilliantly manages to utilize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a background to illustrate the concept of "truth" as a social construct that affects interpersonal relationships as much as it shapes our identity. Jamil has succeeded to give voice to a cast of very divergent characters while refraining from judgment on their respective world views. The audience thus is able to achieve a deeper understanding of the complexity of intractable political and social conflicts and their impact on interpersonal relationships. His play allows the audience to make a deep and lasting cognitive and emotional connection with the characters, their lives, and perspectives. Long after the play is finished and the characters have left the stage, the audience will reflect upon this play."

-Gabriele Schmiegel, M.A. 
Associate Counselor, International Student and Scholar Services
University of Minnesota

"Precious Stones captures the complexity not only of the Israeli/ Palestinian conflict but also of class, sexuality, culture, and gender. It presents a balanced and substantive portrayal of the multiple beliefs and opinions on both sides. My students were awed and impressed by it."

-Dr. Barbara L. Speicher
Acting Chair, Communication Department
De Paul University

"I arranged for two sections of my gay and lesbian history course to see Precious Stones. The play's exploration of the impact of culture and politics on a lesbian relationship provoked considerable discussion and lively interest in both classes. In its very unique way, Precious Stones sheds unusual and engaging light on the current Arab-Israeli conflict.

-Dr. Andrew Suozzo
Professor, Modern Languages
DePaul University

Praise for Precious Stones from Dr. Maya Roth
Director of the Theater Program at Georgetown University

"Jamil Khoury's Precious Stones effectively taps the depth of pain and mistrust for so many people, Palestinians and Jews in the Diaspora, Arabs and Israelis in the Middle East, as they struggle with the effects of generations of dispossession, loss, and violence. It is moving and articulate, both: painful in its testimony, imaginative in its reach for transformation. The play compels us not only to witness, but indeed to recognize that as individuals and diversified communities we must figure out together how best to bring peace and justice to Israel-Palestine. By contextualizing Middle Eastern politics in relation to a lesbian love relationship, Precious Stones fashions the possibility, perhaps the imperative, of imagining new ways of linking somehow mirrored cultural traditions across difference, staging the need for complex negotiations of belonging, identity, and solidarity in our "homes" as well as the world stage. It is a play of compassion, wit, and theatrical imagination. As each actor performs both Arab and Jewish characters, we begin to witness the human capacity for recognizing difference with respect, the transformative lesson of empathy, and the ways in which we perform self and other in everyday lives. This play is best digested over a couple of days' time, for its force of inquiry, no less than its force of testimonial, will make you think, feel, question."

A LETTER FROM DR. ANN RUSSO

November 10, 2003

Dear Colleague,

I strongly encourage you to bring Jamil Khoury's powerful new play Precious Stones to your campus. Produced by Silk Road Theatre Project, Precious Stones presents a wonderful opportunity for campus communities to consider the complexities of identity, experience and politics, and the possibilities for building alliances and coalitions across multiple differences.

Precious Stones is a great pedagogical tool. The play situates the "divide" between Jews and Arabs vis-à-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, while simultaneously revealing the fissures within such polarized opposition. It does so by illuminating a variety of identities and experiences on both sides, and embodying their voices in a most theatrical manner (namely two actors playing six distinct characters). The play asks questions, provides multiple perspectives, and avoids simplistic reductionism. By refusing to elevate one truth over the other, Precious Stones forces audiences to think and rethink their own positions and positionality. The play's themes resonate with theories and issues integral to Women's Studies, ethnic studies, cross-cultural communication, history and politics of the Middle-East, lesbian and gay studies, among others.

I first saw Precious Stones last February (2003) at the Chicago Cultural Center and found the play to be such an amazing and thought provoking experience that I immediately began working to bring it to DePaul University for the Autumn Quarter of 2003. At DePaul, the play enjoyed enormous success; over 225 students from a variety of classes attended the play (including students enrolled in Women's Studies, Performance Studies, Anthropology, Communication, and Political Science courses. The response was enthusiastic and powerful; students and faculty alike were blown away by the play and spent considerable time afterwards discussing the issues it raised. Many were moved to rethink their own internalized homophobia, their stereotypes of Arabs and Jews, and their lack of understanding and knowledge about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I was more than pleased with the strength of the play's messages, particularly that dialogue is difficult, trust is an on-going process, the conversation is unending, and the possibilities are there and yet forever tenuous.

Once again, I would highly recommend working with Silk Road Theatre Project to bring Precious Stones to your campus. Silk Road Theatre Project is an important endeavor, as it is committed to theatre that is cutting-edge, provocative, and socially relevant. The company's co-founders and producers, Jamil Khoury and Malik Gillani, are wonderful to work with and I plan to continue our collaboration in the future. If you would like to talk with me further about Precious Stones and ways to build a collaborative, campus-wide event around the play, please feel free to contact me at the address and phone number above or email me at arusso@depaul.edu.

Best,

Ann Russo
Director, and Associate Professor, Women's and Gender Studies Program
DePaul University