By Sadaf Ali, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)
Local theater brings ancient Baghdad to audiences
Ann Arborâ€”Nov. 4â€”The Ann Arbor Civic Theater (A2CT) will be presenting Shakespeareâ€™s A Midsummer Nightâ€™s Dream with a Middle Eastern twist.
Director Jeff Meyers adapted the fantasy-based comedy classic as homage to Michiganâ€™s diverse community.
â€œOne of the great resources and identities in Southeast Michigan is the Middle Eastern population. It has always bothered me on how underrepresented the Middle Eastern culture is in both the media and the arts,â€ he said.
â€œBeing of Arabic descent I see that thereâ€™s not a lot of theater here that explores our culture,â€ said Ahmed Muslimani, who plays the parts of â€˜Kabobâ€ and â€œAziz.â€
According to Meyers, it is the dream of the Baghdad-that-was which inspired A2CTâ€™s adaptation. Set nearly a thousand years ago, the director hopes to evoke the vibrancy of a region once regarded as the cultural center of the world.
â€œPeople tend to forget that this city was once the cradle of civilization. It has made an incredible contribution to the world in terms of science and the arts. People think of it negatively now,â€ said Meyers.
Actor Katina Nichols â€” who plays â€œAbassaâ€ â€” agrees that many people have a lot of misconceptions because of the current political situation.
â€œWith the war in Iraq, people really have skewed views of the Middle East and I think they forget that it was and still is a beautiful culture,â€ she said, â€œThere are good and bad people in all religions and cultures, so to have one view of a group of people is ignorant.â€
Meyers also says that local theater ignores world issues and he feels that it is a disservice to the audience.
â€œMy big complaint with local theater is that it does not tend to address whatâ€™s going on in the world,â€ he said, â€œYou usually have to go to the bigger cities to get theater that responds to the current world situation.â€
The Director says that by using a play by William Shakespeare, whom he considers â€œthe most Anglo playwrightâ€ in history and marrying that play to the culture of the Middle East was a unique way to bridge the two communities together.
A Midsummer Nightâ€™s Dream, according to Meyers, was also relatively easily adaptable in comparison to Shakespeareâ€™s other work.
â€œItâ€™s the one I could do the most with. Thereâ€™s no history in it. Something like Henry V would be difficult to do,â€ he said, â€œMidsummer is clearly a fantasy and I can switch a Greek king for an Arabic one.â€
Reworking the playâ€™s characters and text, Meyers incorporated Mesopotamian legend along with historical personalities to reflect the playâ€™s new setting. In addition to the cultural exchange, the play-within-a-play, Pyramus and Thisbe has been replaced by The Tale of Aziz and Azizah from A Thousand and One Nights.
Research was involved in every aspect of the production, including the costumes. Costume designer Nan Wirth found sketches of people and statues dating back to approximately 1000 B.C. and used them as a template to hand-stitch most of the clothing.
Performances will be from November 15 -18 at Lydia Mendelssohn Theater on The University of Michigan Ann Arbor campus. For more information you can call A2CT at (734) 971-2228 or visit them online at www.a2ct.org.