James Asher plays Gamal in Golden Thread Productions' local premiere of “Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love & Combat.” (Courtesy Navid G. Maghami)

‘Our Enemies’ asks: Who speaks for Middle Easterners?

Egyptian-American playwright Yussef El Guindi’s 2008 satirical comedy-drama “Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love & Combat” is more relevant now than ever, says Torange Yeghiazarian, founder and artistic director of San Francisco’s Golden Thread Productions, the first American theater with a Middle East focus, now celebrating its 20th anniversary.

That’s because issues of representation and stereotyping of Middle Easterners — who gets to speak for the community? — are increasingly important, within and outside the community.

Over the years, Golden Thread has staged four of the award-winning writer’s full-length plays and presented his shorts in its ReOrient Festival; he’s the troupe’s the most produced playwright.

Opening this week in previews at Thick House is the West Coast premiere of “Our Enemies,” which is funny, unpredictable, intellectually stimulating and, as Yeghiazarian (who is directing) says, likely to make audiences uncomfortable.

The three main characters, Arab-Americans, are writers.

At the center is Gamal (played by James Asher), unpublished and enraged at the way Arab-Americans are portrayed in the media; his ire is in particular directed toward the successful Mohsen (Kunal Prasad), whom Gamal perceives as a self-hating Arab.

Gamal’s hostility sets in motion a series of dramatic events.

Meanwhile, Gamal’s girlfriend, Noor (Denmo Ibrahim), has written a romance novel — something her publisher insists is a memoir about the trials and tribulations of the Arab woman.

Power dynamics among the fractious trio play out in surprising, even shocking, ways.

Two publishers, the sheik at a local mosque, his Americanized adult son and a few other characters are part of the mix.

“Each of the three writers represents a different view of Arab-Americanness,” says Yeghiazarian, “and each struggles in a different way with how the community is represented.”

She can identify with confused and ambivalent feelings engendered by the pressure to be a spokesperson for one’s culture in difficult times: Brought up both Muslim and Christian, Yeghiazarian has had to fend off people’s assumptions and expectations: “I’m always looking for plays that questions those assumptions,” she says.

“What I love about this play,” she continues, “is there are no simple answers; it doesn’t let anyone off the hook.”

Noor, for example, rejects the notion of writing what her publisher wants, but, Yeghiazarian says. “it’s like a trap that she can’t avoid.”

“Our goal,” adds Yeghiazarian, “is to show those layers and complexities,” which El Guindi so imaginatively explores.

What this play reveals, she says, is that no one voice or viewpoint is adequate to represent an entire community.

IF YOU GO
Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love & Combat
Presented by Golden Thread Productions
Where: Thick House, 1695 18th St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays; closes Nov. 20
Tickets: $24 to $34
Contact: (415) 626-4061, www.goldenthread.org

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