ReOrient fest focuses on Middle Eastern themes

Courtesy PhotoArtistic gathering: Golden Thread Productions’ actors and directors participating in the ReOrient Theatre Festival include

In a three-week blitz, the ReOrient Theatre Festival and Forum, produced by San Francisco’s Middle Eastern-themed Golden Thread Productions, is offering world premiere plays plus seminars, panels, a jazz concert and more.

When artistic director Torange Yeghiazarian founded Golden Thread in 1996, she could not foresee how events in the Middle East would affect the world — nor could she imagine the exponential growth and increasing cultural significance of her small company.

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Now, Golden Thread’s unique festival, produced once every three years (with a host of nonprofit partners), attracts playwrights from all over the world.

“Every year the writing gets better and better,” Yeghiazarian says. With a literary committee, she selected eight pieces from among about 70 submissions of short plays for this year’s festival and added three more of her own choosing.

“Playwrights are feeling more comfortable taking risks with the material,” she says, “getting away from stereotypical, two-dimensional characterizations that we used to see in the early years. The material is more complex now, and that’s exciting.”

In two series at two places, the festival features full productions of six short plays (Series A this weekend at Noh Space) and four monologues (Series B next week at Z Space).

Among other plays, Series A presents “The Birds Flew In” by well-known Egyptian-born playwright Yussef El Guindi, directed by Golden Thread literary artistic associate Evren Odcikin; Egyptian playwright Tawfiq al-Hakim’s “War and Peace” in translation; and Jen Silverman’s romance between an Israeli soldier and a Lebanese poet.

Series B includes the U.S. premiere of MacArthur Genius Grant winner Naomi Wallace’s “City of Grubs,” directed by Desdemona Chiang, as well as local writer Elizabeth Benedict’s “Orhan,” about a Briton — half Turkish and half black — accused of terrorism.

Series B also features two plays, one from a young Iranian, the other from a young Iraqi, whose creators will watch each other’s play via live streaming (all Series B events will be live-streamed) and then converse, probably via Skype.

“Iran and Iraq fought a bloody war for eight years,” says Yeghiazarian, who directs both plays, “so it’s significant that those two playwrights are represented.”

Topics for the free forum (the keynote speaker is Hamid Dabashi, professor of Middle Eastern studies at Columbia University) range from “The Arab Spring and Its Dramatic Reverberations” to “Comedic Counter Terrorism,” moderated by local playwright Joan Holden.

The forum also includes two ticketed events, including the family friendly “Rumi x 7,” based on Sufi poet Rumi’s work, at 2 p.m. Sunday. At 7 p.m. Sunday, local jazz saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh and collaborators close the festival, which is the only one of its kind in the country.

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