TNC to Host Night of Two Plays Based on Kanafani Short Stories
Theater for the New City Executive Director Crystal Field is presenting a night of two plays based on short stories by Ghassan Kanafani, an award-winning Palestinian journalist, playwright and novelist whose work has been presented around the world.
A Night Without a Blanket, a solo dramatization of two stories by Ghassan Kanafani performed by Margo Lee Sherman and directed by Juanita Lara, is running April 7-24 Thurs. - Sat. at 8 p.m. and Sun. at 3 p.m.
The Slope and A Present for the Holiday, two short stories adapted for the stage, capture a very real account of the lives of the Palestinian people as told through the voices of Palestinian children.
Tickets are available for $15 and $10 by clicking the Tix. link, at the TNC website at www.theaterforthenewcity.net or from the theater at 212-254-1109.
Sherman portrays a teacher afraid to teach, a wealthy man with "good" intentions, a journalist and children who through their vivid storytelling give us a snapshot of Palestinian daily lives.
"We haven't cut much. The language is so fantastic," said Sherman, whose roots go back to the Bread and Puppet Theater, as well as working with Joseph Chaikin, Meredith Monk and others. "The child tells the story of his father in such a way that it is truly fantastic."
The name of the show was inspired by the poetic writings of Nathalie Handal, a poet, playwright, and essayist, currently a professor at Columbia University whose family comes from Palestine.
The stories focus on how children, the ultimate victims of so many conflicts, find themselves caught in the middle of events, when their families end up in poverty and refugee camps.
"The fact that these stories are well loved years later and still resonate just speaks to the timelessness of them," Lara said, "and the appropriateness of doing the show today."
Sherman's work includes What do I know about War? based on first hand accounts of American troops, men and women both living and dead, who served in Iraq. She performed this show throughout the United States and in international theater festivals in Egypt, Colombia and Cuba.
She first encountered Kanafani's work after a number of children were killed in bombings in the Gaza Strip in 2009. A friend recommended she read Letter from Gaza, a story about a man who changes his mind about leaving Gaza.
"I figured it had been written two weeks earlier. I cried at the end," Sherman continued. "Then I discovered it had been written in 1956 by a 20-year-old writer with a lot of compassion".
The evening seeks to bring the work of Kanafani, who led a kind of cultural revolution in which well-chosen words were weapons, to American audiences.
He lived from 1936 to 1972, leaving Palestine in 1948 at age 12, when his family was expelled, and settling in Damascus. His father was a lawyer.
"When he was 16, he became an art teacher in the refugee camps," Sherman said. "He studied literature at the University of Damascus and worked as a teacher and journalist in Damascus and Kuwait."
Kanafani in 1960 moved to Beirut to become editor-in-chief of a daily newspaper, working as a journalist and editor by day and at night writing short stories, novellas, essays and plays as part of a Palestinian expatriate intelligentsia.
In The Slope, a child shares a story about his father, a shoe repairman, who works hard to earn enough money to send his children to school.
In A Present for the Holiday, a journalist's sleep is disturbed by a phone call from a wealthy man who proposes delivering presents to children living in a refugee camp in Jordan.
"Kanafani was a cultural leader who said we can understand the occupation only through theater," Sherman added. "He created the term 'resistance literature.'"
Kanafani and his niece were killed in the explosion of his booby-trapped car in Beirut in 1972.
Kanafani posthumously was awarded the Afro-Asia Writers' Conference's Lotus Prize for Literature in 1975.
"He was assassinated at the age of 36," Lara said. "He had strong opinions and commentary about Palestine, but to me his stories also convey a universal dimension of displacement, violence and family separation that resonates with many Latino and immigrant experiences."
His work has been translated into 17 languages and published in more than 20 countries, although it isn't well known in the United States.
"He was a brilliant man who adored children," Sherman said. "Most people in this country have never heard of him."
A Night Without a Blanket: two stories by Ghassan Kanafani. Theater for the New City presents The Slope and A Present for the Holiday, adapted from the work of this world renowned Palestinian journalist, novelist, and playwright. Margo Lee Sherman stars in this one-woman show directed by Juanita Lara. Theater for the New City 155 First Ave. @10th Street. Thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m. and Sun. at 3 p.m. April 7 - 24, 2016. Tix. $15/$10 at www.theaterforthenewcity.net or 212-254-1109.