October 19, 2005
By Jennifer Olvera
We all share commonalities, regardless of race, religion and place of origin. The fact is, certain emotions and experiences cross boundaries, and they either bring people together or tear them apart. These truths lie behind "Ten Acrobats in an Amazing Leap of Faith," a play by Yussef El Guindi, a Seattle playwright who spun a Muslim-American family drama everyone -- on some level -- can relate to.
The play, which will be put on by the Silk Road Theatre Project at the Historic Chicago Temple Building downtown, is steeped in both Muslim identity and the American experience. An Egyptian immigrant family struggles to find their place within American society, navigating inter-generational conflict, their Islamic faith and the values of two cultures. In evoking universal themes of faith, culture, belonging and desire, it adds a new chapter to the American immigrant narrative as captured on stage.
Slice of life
"To me, it's like any other family drama," said Oak Park actor Frank Platis, who plays the role of Cairo resident Aziz, father of Murad. His son is to be wed in an arranged ceremony to Huwaidi, a U.S. resident with Egyptian roots.
Platis' first role ever was a lead in Triton College's "Dracula" in the late '90s. Since then, he's gone on to take workshops and classes throughout Chicago, acts in many productions each year and accepts roles in independent student films.
"It's not propaganda or anything. It's just a slice of life, and it addresses issues people of all cultures deal with," he said.
'Interesting and fun'
The story takes places over a few days time when the to-be-weds meet again in the States with families in tow. Huwaidi struggles with the notion of an arranged marriage, while one of her brothers cops to being an atheist and another is caught messing around with a guy in a public park.
"It's interesting and fun," said River Forest resident Jen Albert, a freelance bookkeeper who plays the role of Huwaidi's subconscious, HD. "My character is extreme. She appears in Huwaidi's dreams at a time when she's getting flaky about the marriage. While she sometimes makes crass comments about (Muslim culture), she later has a wonderful speech about the importance of Ramadan, which is taking place at the time (the families meet)."
At one point, the Columbia College acting grad comes on stage in a bathing suit and Muslim head garb.
Although the play exhibits many lessons to be learned, it doesn't come off as preachy, according to Platis.
"It's big and bold with a lot of special effects and costume changes," he said. "It's like a musical in terms of spectacle -- only without the music."
In the end, this play presents a tale about religious pluralism and tolerance, presenting a balanced view of Muslim-Americans, while combating stereotypes and prejudice.
"Seeing this play would be a positive experience for anyone," said Albert. "If you're not Muslim, it might open your eyes to another culture and help you see (the things you have in common). If you are, you might see your own family in these characters."