November 3, 2005
By Venus Zarris
Remember back when black people were only depicted as servants or criminals? Remember back when gay people were only depicted as hair stylists or psychotic killers? Remember when Muslims were only depicted as terrorists and fanatics? Oh, wait, you don't have to remember that last one, because it is still the case—that is until now.
Once again, Silk Road Theatre Project manages to triumphantly do what few even contemplate. It breaks down stereotypes. It gives a complicated situation in-depth analysis from several angles. It challenges preconceived and simplified notions, and it manages to create captivating and entertaining theatre in the process. In this world premiere of Yussef El Guindi’s "Ten Acrobats In an Amazing Leap of Faith," we are introduced to a Muslim-American family that is far from the alien depictions that are so common to our current War in Iraq, post-9/11 political climate. The family we meet is so "people like us" that I wouldn’t be surprised if the current administration doesn’t put everyone involved with the production on a "watch list" as "dangerous subversives," because this charming play flies in the face of all notions of Muslims being dangerous, anti-American and/or at least primitive zealots. You know, those same sensationalized notions that have been used to sell our populace all kinds of counterfeit paranoia.
Unless you are full-blooded Native American Indian, at some point, someone in your family had to assimilate to this country from another culture. Some of us are close enough to know of the old country and how its norms differ from America. Some of us are so far removed from the diaspora of our family roots that we have a ludicrous sense of entitlement. But rest assured, no one settles in this country without the need for adjustment, and that is a big part of the story told in "Ten Acrobats."
Space does not permit me to touch on all of the ground covered in the magnificent script and evoked and provoked by this excellent production, but I will tell you that this tells the story of a loving family of Americans who confront the challenges that come with questioning tradition. Kamal and Mona are parents to three intelligent children who they adore. Their son Tawfiq questions the relevance of his family’s faith. Their daughter Huwaida questions her pending arranged marriage. And their son Hamza questions his sexual orientation. This leads their father to question his choice to move to this country, which he blames for his children's evolving personalities.
"It was a mistake coming to this country," Kamal declares in a moment of exasperation. "25 years later, you come to this conclusion?" his wife responds.
Woven into this complicated family drama are scenes of delightful humor. Humanity is the substance that ties not only all of the characters together but also binds the audience to them. This play beautifully serves the purposes of drama, comedy, the artistic theatrical process and, perhaps most importantly, demystifying the hate that comes from fear of unknown cultures.
The superb ensemble delivers these characters and this stimulating story masterfully. You can tell from your seat in the audience that it has a passion for the material, and you feel as if this show is a personal statement from everyone involved in the production, both on and offstage.
As with any story that is so politically and religiously charged, there is the temptation and risk of it becoming a pulpit for excessive sermonizing. But Yussef El Guindi's script and Stuart Carden's focused direction resist this temptation, and just when you fear you might be the unwilling recipient of self-righteous conclusions, you are treated to genuine compassion or given an unexpected twist in perspective.
Artistic director Jamil Khoury and executive director Malik Gillani fearlessly treat us to something not only stimulating and lovely but something incredibly important and necessary if we are to begin the journey out of these dangerous dark ages of propagandized discrimination and marginalized intolerance. Plus they treat us to a wonderful time in the process.
FOUR STARS (****)