Midsummer Night in Arabic

By Sadaf Ali, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Local theater brings ancient Baghdad to audiences

Ann Arbor—Nov. 4—The Ann Arbor Civic Theater (A2CT) will be presenting Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with a Middle Eastern twist.

Portrait of William Shakespeare.

Director Jeff Meyers adapted the fantasy-based comedy classic as homage to Michigan’s diverse community.

“One 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,” he said.

“Being of Arabic descent I see that there’s not a lot of theater here that explores our culture,” said Ahmed Muslimani, who plays the parts of ‘Kabob” and “Aziz.”

According to Meyers, it is the dream of the Baghdad-that-was which inspired A2CT’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.

“People 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,” said Meyers.

Actor Katina Nichols — who plays “Abassa” — agrees that many people have a lot of misconceptions because of the current political situation.

“With 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,” she said, “There are good and bad people in all religions and cultures, so to have one view of a group of people is ignorant.”

Meyers also says that local theater ignores world issues and he feels that it is a disservice to the audience.

“My big complaint with local theater is that it does not tend to address what’s going on in the world,” he said, “You usually have to go to the bigger cities to get theater that responds to the current world situation.”

The Director says that by using a play by William Shakespeare, whom he considers “the most Anglo playwright” 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 Night’s Dream, according to Meyers, was also relatively easily adaptable in comparison to Shakespeare’s other work.

“It’s the one I could do the most with. There’s no history in it. Something like Henry V would be difficult to do,” he said, “Midsummer is clearly a fantasy and I can switch a Greek king for an Arabic one.”

Reworking the play’s characters and text, Meyers incorporated Mesopotamian legend along with historical personalities to reflect the play’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.


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