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PlayCo, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and More Present Amir Nizar Zuabi's THIS IS WHO I AM

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Directed by Evren Odcikin, the production will run November 29 - December 27.

PlayCo, as the kickoff to its 20th year, and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, in association with American Repertory Theater at Harvard University, the Guthrie Theater, and Oregon Shakespeare Festival, present Amir Nizar Zuabi's This Is Who I Am, directed by Evren Odcikin, November 29 - December 27. Separated by continents, an estranged father and son reunite over Zoom. From their respective kitchens in Ramallah and New York City, they recreate a cherished family recipe and struggle to bridge the gap between them, one ingredient at a time. Told through the intimacy of a video call with humor and humanity, Amir Nizar Zuabi's new play explores the unpredictable nature of grief and the delicacy of family connection across geographical and generational divides.

This Is Who I Am's cast includes Ramsey Faragallah (Dad) and Yousof Sultani (Son). The design team, working with actors to adapt their home kitchens for live performances of the play, includes Mariana Sanchez (Set), Dina El-Aziz (Costume Consultant), Reza Behjat (Lighting), James Ard (Sound), and Ido Levran (Video Systems Editor); Joseph Haj is the production dramaturg.

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company Artistic Director Maria Manuela Goyanes says, "If you had told me my first commissioned play for Woolly Mammoth would be a co-production with five other major arts institutions in the country, written by the brilliant Amir Nizar Zuabi, and live-streamed rather than performed on stage, I would have had trouble believing you! Yet to categorize this project as a piece of pandemic theatre feels incorrect. Amir has written a story specifically meant to be told through a video call, connecting form and content seamlessly. The experience is intimate and still inherently theatrical. I am so honored to have co-commissioned this piece with PlayCo and to continue to poke at the boundaries of what theatre can be; both online and in person."

PlayCo Founding Producer Kate Loewald says, "This project has come together as PlayCo celebrates 20 years of producing new plays by international writers. It's a joy and an honor to continue our creative relationship with Amir Nizar Zuabi, whose Oh My Sweet Land is a highlight of PlayCo's body of work to date. I'm so happy to be working alongside Maria Goyanes, whom I admire so much, and to partner with an amazing group of theatres across the country. I'm moved to see artists and organizations rally around this experiment in theatre-making for our time-one that gets as close to live theatre as is possible right now. It's a beautiful demonstration of PlayCo's mission to generate a global program of new work that puts artists and audiences in conversation with the world. That feels more necessary than ever in this moment of isolation and alienation."

Having presented his site-specific "wrenching and shrewd solo show" (The New York Times, in a Critics' Pick review) Oh My Sweet Land in kitchens across New York City with PlayCo, Zuabi expands the meaning of site-specificity with this new piece. Performed in two actors' kitchens (in which they cook fteer), the play is also set across the divide of two computer screens. Zuabi here deepens his exploration of the kitchen as a space of sensorial stimulation, familial legacy, and discussion that organically slips between intimate and external circumstances-and finds a new setting to consider: Zoom. In This Is Who I Am, two actors perform a balancing act of care and resentment, closeness and vast separation, as they cook in real-time over video chat.

Zuabi, who grew up in Palestine, moved to London for a time, and currently resides in Jaffa, explains, "I left my country at a certain point and remembered these awkward long-distance conversations. Now, many hours of my day have been spent Zoom-ing since January; one of the big frustrations is that we're very close, and I can look at people's houses and feel very intimate with them but at the same time we're deprived of our sensory ability and are separated by two walls of glass. But if two people are both cooking the same dish, at least the smells are similar and the noises might be happening at the same time, so suddenly we are creating a mutual world. All of these things combined in creating this: my need to take revenge from Zoom and its limitations; the fact that food was on the table for this project from the very get-go; and the fact that as I'm grieving [the loss of my own parents four and five years ago] a lot of other people started grieving from the actual pandemic."

Zuabi adds, "This play for me is about grief and the way we negotiate it. It's about distance and how we negotiate it. It's about manhood and how we negotiate it. And it's about love and how it negotiates us."

Director Evren Odcikin (Associate Artistic Director at OSF), who worked for Golden Thread Productions when they likewise presented an acclaimed production of Oh My Sweet Land on the West Coast, describes a close personal identification with Zuabi's work. "This is Who I Am is my introduction to OSF audiences as an artist, and I am proud that my new artistic home is helping uplift this personal play from one of my favorite writers. It's a great alignment of OSF's programmatic values and my personal mission to champion Middle Eastern and Middle Eastern American stories and artists." Odcikin, who is an immigrant from Turkey, adds that he was struck by the play's nuanced depiction of masculinity with a Palestinian father and a Palestinian-American son. "I have never seen an accurate depiction of my personal experience as a Middle Eastern male immigrant on American stages. The nuance and care Amir has given to both the Father and Son in the play, I haven't seen that. My hope is that the audience will experience this complicated relationship as a gift as personal and imperfect as cooking together can be."

Diane Paulus, A.R.T. Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director, says, "The pandemic has created both necessities and opportunities to make new art forms and producing models. This partnership across five theaters is emblematic of the resilience and innovation we need to embrace in our industry and the institutional responsibility to support artists during this challenging time. The A.R.T. is very grateful to join the team in supporting Amir and the brilliant company of artists assembled to bring his deeply moving play-born out of this moment-to life."

Joseph Haj, artistic director of the Guthrie Theater and production dramaturg for This Is Who I Am, said, "Last season the Guthrie presented Amir's beautiful production of Grey Rock, and our audiences fell in love with the piece. I'm incredibly admiring of Amir and his work and I'm thrilled to be able to join this fantastic creative team. The opportunity to work with such a smart, creative, and passionate group of people is one I'm thankful for and I think our audiences, across all of the partners, are going to be offered something quite special."

Performance Schedule and Tickets

Preview performances begin November 29 at 4pm EST and continue December 1, 3 and 4 at 8:30pm EST and December 2 at 4pm EST. The opening night performance takes place December 5 at 8:30pm, followed by performances December 6, 8-12, 15-19, 22-23, 26-27 at 8:30pm EST and December 12-13, 19-20, and 26-27 at 4pm EST.

Tickets to This Is Who I Am start at $15. Visit online at woollymammoth.net, by phone at (202) 393-3939, via email at tickets@woollymammoth.net. To make this production accessible for as many audiences as possible, special rates for tickets to preview performances will be offered; more details to come.


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