March 1, 2008
By Tom Williams
Silk Road Theatre Project showcases playwrights of Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean backgrounds reflecting their themes. In Yussef El Guindi’s interesting world premiere, Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat, we see the struggle of the Arab American community to define itself. The young “Americanized” verses the traditionalists with a Middle Eastern temperament. El Guindi focuses on the public voices of Arabs in the US media that some Arab American see as “Uncle Tom’s” to the American media. El Guindi develops several contemporary Arab characters to mouth his polemic.
We see the charismatic best-selling author, Mohsen (Andrew Navarro) who writes realistically about the dark side of Arab life in an attempt to both inform and reform thoughts about Arabs to an American audience. His editor, Olivia (Susie Griffith) is the manipulative editor who deftly steers her writers to write what American want to read rather than what the writer needs to say. When she reads Noor (Monica Lopez)’s romance novel, she decides that it needs to be more of an Arab women’s (the author’s) confessional to appeal to American sensitivities about Middle Eastern women. Noor, now a sophisticated American, is ambivalent. Olivia struggles to move her while her boyfriend Gamal (Kareem Bandealy) is an angry young Arab American writer who mocks all Arab apologists in the media. Add the kindly Sheikh Alfani (Vincent P. Mahler), the head Moslem clergy of a leading New York City mosque as he proudly speaks for Arabs on TV and Our Enemies unfolds as drama that addresses the complexity of Arab life in America. We see the Sheikh’s totally American son, Hani (James Elly) excited to be traveling to Egypt to meet for the first time his relatives.
When Noor sells out to her American publisher, Gamal escalates his rage through pranks against Mohsen and the Sheikh. We see how the seeds of much of the Arab identity confuses Americans since polarization, extreme beliefs and an atmosphere that never fosters compromise appears to permeate internally in the Arab community.
El Guindi’s play attempts to give a voice to these conflicts through vibrant, articulate and passionate characters. Outstanding performances from Andrew Navarro (Mohsen), Kareem Bandealy (Gamal) and Monica Lopez (Noor) hightlight the prodiction. This fast paced show, under the smart direction of Patrizia Acerra, grabs us, gets us to like and care about the characters as it presents the complex, gray area dichotomies of the contemporary Arab American experience. While offering no simple solutions, Our Enemies does aptly present the issues and images facing Arabs as they assimilate into America life. El Guindi dramatically demonstrates that, indeed, Arabs are their own worst enemies. This show challenges our stereotypical perceptions of Moslem Arabs.
Our Enemies is a nicely written, fine acted play filled with vivid characters, some humor and lots of sexy action. Who says a play of ideas has to be dull? Not here. El Guindi is a talented storyteller with a keen eye for characterization.