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ReOrient tells modern tales from the Middle East

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Roneet Aliza Rahamim, Emily Keyishian, Denmo Ibrahim, Naseem Etemad and Adam Roy appear in “Turning Tricks,” an edgy short play in “ReOrient,” Golden Thread Productions’ festival of Middle Eastern theater. (Courtesy David Allen)

udging by the new short plays comprising the first segment of its 2015 ReOrient Festival, Bay Area theater troupe Golden Thread Productions is clearly fulfilling its mission to offer compelling stories representing the complexity and diversity of the contemporary Middle Eastern experience.

Vivid, human characters came to life in all four premieres in Saturday night’s series A. (Five more plays, in series B, panel discussions and musical performances complete the program, which runs through Oct. 4 at Z Below in San Francisco.)

Directed by Evren Odcikin, Yussef El Guindi’s realistic yet dreamy “Picking Up the Scent” describes the conflict between an intrepid archeologist Hisham (Damien Seperi) who goes to work to uncover artifacts in an active war zone against the wishes of his wife Nisrin (Nora el Samahy), a poet who leaves their Middle Eastern home to study in London.

Their separation is palpable, symbolized by feelings evoked by two perfume receptacles, one Hisham gives Nisrin in attempts to make her understand his need to do life-threatening work; another an ancient bottle Hisham finds on a dig – one that uncovers the spirit of a woman (Roneet Aliza Rahamim) who is pleased that her story is being told.

Hannah Khalil’s “Bitterenders,” directed by Manijeh Mohamedi, tells the story of an Arab family: father Ahmed (Lawrence Radecker), his wife Selma (el Samahy), their daughter Maha (Rahamim) and Ahmed’s aging, not-all-there mother Sitti (a dynamic Bella Warda), facing an abundance of challenges, from being forced literally to share their home in East Jerusalem with Israelis, then being forced out of it — and not for the first time.

In “Counting in Sha’ab,” written by Emma Goldman-Sherman and directed by Erin Gilley, a sturdy grocer in Baghdad (Julian Lopez-Morillas) deals with the aftermath of a car bomb explosion, an event not entirely uncommon. On one level, it wreaked havoc with his merchandise and left a huge hole in the street nearby; on another, it shook up his young worker Ali (Abdulrahim Harara) and a customer (Emily Keysishian), who, agreeing with the proprietor, comes to the inevitable conclusion about the violent state of affairs: “I will get used to it; what can I do?”

Gilley also directs Silva Semerciyan’s jarring, provocative “Turning Tricks,” a short play that begins with two annoying well-to-do British couples on a social night out, gossiping inanely. Their chatter devolves into horrifying reality when they start trying to one-up each other, showing off the girls they readily call whores, from Moldova and Bulgaria, in their employ. And the finale – the way they leave them, as they continue their evening at the theater — is shocking.

It’s one of many eye-opening moments in the evening-long presentation about too many people whose stories are largely untold in America.


REVIEW

ReOrient
Presented by Golden Thread Productions
Where: Z Below, 470 Florida St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 4
Tickets: $22 to $30
Contact: www.goldenthread.org
Note: Additional family and musical performances and free panel discussions are slated for Oct. 3-4.

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