Portland Stage Will Stage the World Premiere of REFUGE MALJA
Portland Stage will stage the World Premiere of Refuge Malja by Bess Welden with Arabic Translation by Ali Al-Mshakheel begins Oct 30 through Nov 18, opens for reviewers Friday Nov 2, 2018. When a Jewish-American war photographer feels compelled to assist a young refugee who steps in front of her camera, she calls an old friend to translate but hesitates to reveal why she is so drawn to the boy. This poetic, decade-spanning drama explores how we each define and find our own malja (refuge). Affiliate Artist Bess Welden's Refuge Malja was developed as part of the 2017 Little Festival of the Unexpected and was subsequently workshopped in the Studio Series in January of 2018. Refuge Malja is made possible with support from the Maine Humanities Council and the Maine Arts Commission.
Anita Stewart, Executive and Artistic Director of Portland Stage shared this "We are excited to be producing Refuge Malja for our 45th Season. At Portland Stage, we are working to engage many different facets of our community. I'm excited to be developing a play that seems so relevant to our local community. The piece is about the refugee experience and I look forward to seeing how diverse audiences will respond to the bilingual text that Bess and Ali have developed."
Refuge Malja explores Jewish-American photojournalist Jamie Winter's strange fascination with a young refugee Waleed, who steps in front of her camera lens. Unsure where to turn she calls an old friend and lover Ibrahim Malouf for some translation help and dives into a sea of memories that might be the secret to Waleed's past and the connection Jamie and Ibrahim share with him. The play also immerses the audience in Arabic, slowly with word games as Jamie and Waleed try to understand each other, and then in poetry and prose offering a taste of what Waleed must feel like, as a stranger in a strange land.
Playwright Bess Welden had this to say "The original inspiration for the play came from Jodi Hilton, a freelance international photojournalist (who also happens to by my sister-in-law), who was covering the migrant crisis from Lesvos in the fall of 2015. Along with images of people arriving in boats, she created a series of photos of shoes people were leaving behind on the beach as they tried to make their way further into Europe. I was immediately struck by how many of the shoes clearly belonged to children, and then I read several reports about kids making the perilous journey alone. The character of Waleed emerged and the rest of the story evolved from there.
The shoe images resonated strongly for me because they felt so reminiscent of the iconic images of piles of discarded shoes collected at Nazi concentration camps 70 years earlier. Through the character of Jamie's family history I wanted to explore the circularity of waves of migration - how she would connect her grandfather's story of seeking refuge during WWII to Waleed's experience. I also became fascinated with the question of how first responders and others who witness such heartbreaking events as part of their work find balance between professional remove and conveying the deeply affecting stories of people fleeing for their lives. I wondered what would happen to a war photographer, who'd seen so much injury and trauma up
close, if she met a child in need of help who would dismantle her boundaries even though he's a stranger.
Early in the process I knew I wanted to explore how lack of a shared language changes how people communicate and understand each other. Since I am not an Arabic speaker, this choice forced me to build relationships with some people in the Arabic-speaking community here in Portland, and through that process I have discovered real connections and friendships. I met Ali Al Mshakeel initially when I was developing an earlier version of the play through the Maine Playwrights Festival. When I realized that I needed to write a full-length script, thankfully Ali agreed to come along as my collaborator, and not just as a translator but also a cultural broker and community connector. There would be no play without his contributions."
THE WRITERS Bess Welden (Playwright) has been making theater as a writer, performer, and educator for nearly 25 years, Refuge Malja marks her playwriting debut on Portland Stage's mainstage after developing the script in the 2017 Little Festival of the Unexpected and a week-long residency at Hewnoaks Artist Colony. Her one-act play Madelines (2015) premiered in PS's Studio Series, and her two solo comedies Big Mouth Thunder Thighs (2013) and The Passion of the Hausfrau (2009) were also workshopped through Little Festival and premiered in the Studio Theater. In 2017, her original multi-disciplinary performance project, Legbala is a River, premiered at Mayo Street Arts, and her play Death Wings received at staged reading with Real Live Theatre in Northampton, MA and was workshopped with professional and student actors at Colby College. In addition, she helped develop the script for and directed Not Always Happy, written and performed by Portland blogger/memoirist/social justice storyteller Kari Wagner-Peck. Her children's theater piece, Magic in the Attic, premiered at Theater LJCC in Birmingham, AL (2015) and her latest script for young actors/audiences, Mergirl Saves the Waves, was workshopped in July 2018 through PS's Theater for Kids summer program. Bess is the librettist of two musical works, A Little Miracle (Lincoln Center premiere) and Eagle Girl, composed by David Stock, and has co-written and performed four other solo plays. As a performer (MFA, National Theater Conservatory) she has appeared with the Denver Center Theater Company, Williamstown Theater Festival, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Hangar Theater, Montana Shakespeare in the Parks, Portland Stage, Dramatic Repertory Company, the Opera House at Boothbay, Mad Horse Theatre, Portland Symphony Orchestra, Southwest Michigan Symphony, White Plains Performing Arts Center, Commonweal Theater, among many others. Bess is a Teaching Artist in Colby College's Department of Theater and Dance where she has directed mainstage productions of Tartuffe and A Midsummer Night's Dream, as well as facilitated/directed the Activist Storytelling Workshop/The Passion Project. She is a long-time and proud PS Affiliate Artist and Teaching Artist. www.besswelden.com.
Ali Al-Mshakheel (Arabic Translation) worked in media relations and outreach for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq before he and his family left Baghdad, Iraq in 2014. He had previously been a producer for ABC News reporting on events throughout Iraq; editor of news and feature stories for Aswat Al-Iraq web based News agency; and reporter and interpreter for The Times of London and Asahi Shimbun. Ali has recently co-founded the Maine Language Connect, an agency providing language interpretation, translation and cultural training the education, judicial, and medical sectors.
THE DIRECTOR Kareem Fahmy is a Canadian-born director and playwright of Egyptian descent. He is a 2017- 2018 National Directors Fellow with The O'Neill Theater Center and the National New Play
Network. He has directed and co-conceived a number of world premiere productions including James Scruggs's 3/Fifths (3LD, New York Times Top 5 Must-See Shows), Sevan K. Greene's This Time (Sheen Center, New York Times Critics' Pick), and Victor Lesniewski's Couriers and Contrabands (TBG Theatre). Other: Adam Kraar's Alternating Currents (world premiere, Working Theater), Rohina Malik's The Mecca Tales (NY premiere, Voyage Theater Company), Nikkole Salter's Indian Head (world premiere, Luna Stage). Kareem's work as a playwright has been developed and produced at Noor Theatre, Rising Circle Theater Collective, The Lark, Fault Line Theatre, and The Atlantic Theater Company. He is currently adapting the seminal Egyptian novel The Yacoubian Building for the stage. Kareem has developed plays with New York Theatre Workshop (where he is a Usual Suspect), MCC, Second Stage, Soho Rep, New Dramatists, The Lark, Ensemble Studio Theatre, Sundance, The Civilians, Noor Theatre, Silk Road Rising, and Berkeley Rep. He is a founder of Maia Directors, a consulting group for organizations and artists engaging with Middle Eastern stories. MFA: Columbia University. www.KareemFahmy.com
MEMBERSHIP In addition, Portland Stage announced its move from Subscription to Membership. In honor of their 45th season they are celebrating their audience and community by creating a new Membership Program. Membership at Portland Stage is more than just a seat in the house, it's joining our team with insider access, great savings and flexibility. In addition to their current ticket packages, they are now offering enhanced Member Benefits, and new options for audiences. Visit portlandstage.org to learn more about Membership.
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