Jamil Khoury, who grew up in Mount Prospect, has co-curated a staged reading series to humanize the toll of the decades-long conflict between Israel and Palestine. The series, titled "Semitic Commonwealth," features six playwrights of Jewish and Arab backgrounds and will run at Silk Road Rising, a theatre in the Chicago Loop, from February 10th to February 26th. Featuring a talented team of actors and directors whose work spans Chicagoland and its suburbs, this three-weekend series is poised to be as emotionally affecting as it is politically relevant.
The creative team of "Semitic Commonwealth" is large in both scope and talent. Actors in the series include Sami Ismat, a resident of Evanston, Rachel Silvert, who has been seen on stage in Skokie, Janet Ulrich Brooks, who has performed at Northlight in Skokie, and Steve Silver, who has graced several stages in Skokie and Glenview. The pieces are directed by Jess McLeod, who earned her MFA from Northwestern University in Evanston, as well as Jonathan Green, Anna Bahow, and series co-curator and lead director Michael Malek Najjar.
In curating the pieces, Khoury was more concerned with examining the humanity behind the conflict, rather than focusing the discussion on "rooting for one's team." Khoury stated that the plays "pose difficult questions without presuming to offer answers" and characterized the series as investigating themes of "identity, justice, occupation, exile, history, and homeland with remarkable honesty and integrity."
By selecting three Jewish playwrights and three Arab playwrights, audiences are able to view the conflict through two distinct lenses each weekend. Khoury praises the work of each playwright, stating that "these artists find truth and humanity in characters with whom they agree and disagree, and eschew the didacticism, polemics, and policing of thought that we can only associate with the worst of political theatre." Thus, "Semitic Commonwealth's" ultimate goal is to make deeply personal what has often been seen as deeply political.
The first weekend of "Semitic Commonwealth" performances (February 10-12) features "Scenes from 69* Years" by Hannah Khalil and "The Admission" by Motti Lerner. Khalil's play is an epic snapshot of life in Palestine spanning 69 years, while "The Admission" is a political drama examining conflicting narratives.
The second weekend of performances (February 17-19) offers up a meditation on both the meaning of home with Zohar Tirosh-Polk's "The Zionists," and the last days of the Arab Revolt with "Tennis in Nablus" by Ismail Khalidi. Each piece combines the playwright's passion for their subject matter with biting humor to share a compelling story.
"Semitic Commonwealth" will conclude February 24-26, with the performances of "Urge for Going" by Mona Mansour, followed by Ken Kaissar's "The Admission." "Urge for Going" depicts the life of a seventeen year old Palestinian girl growing up in a refugee camp, while Kaissar's piece explores the contradiction in perspectives surrounding Israel and Palestine's histories.
Reflecting on the scope of "Semitic Commonwealth," Khoury is optimistic about the good the series can do. "I'm proud that Silk Road Rising has created a space that accommodates a spectrum of views on this issue," he says. "I'm proud that our audience includes passionate supporters of both Israel and Palestine. In fact, I'm awed that such ideological diversity has converged on our 85-seat theatre-a hard-won affirmation that our mission is working."
"Semitic Commonwealth" will run at Silk Road Rising at 77 W. Washington St. Chicago, IL on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from February 10th to February 26th. Performances are at 4:00pm and 8:00pm. For a complete performance schedule or to purchase tickets, visit www.SemiticCommonwealth.org or call the Silk Road Rising box office at 312-857-1234 extension 201.