Review: Magic Theatre premieres powerful 'Territories'

In yet another brave season of new plays, San Francisco's Magic Theatre has come up with a winner. The world premiere of Betty Shamieh's “Territories” provides a gripping play of sustained interest. Thoughtful, provocative, well-acted, this a vitally contemporary story, although set in the time of the Crusades. Except for a few meaningful but half-hidden references to the situation in the Middle East today, “Territories” speaks of timelessly important issues.

The play's three characters are based on historic figures, but Shamieh — born of a Palestinian family, in San Francisco — imbues them with personalities that serve the her dramatic purpose.

Saladin (Salah al-Din), a Moslem Kurd from Tikrit who ruled over Egypt and Syria in the 12th century, tried to make peace with the Christian invaders, but eventually led the resistance to the Crusaders, and recaptured Jerusalem and other cities they had occupied. Dressed in Fumiko Bielefeldt's splendid costume, Alfredo Narciso gives the character a shaded, subtle reality, playing a man of peace slowly forced to become a brutal sultan. (Shamieh's story stops before the real Saladin ordered beheading hundreds of prisoners in the Third Crusades.)

Reginald of Châtillon, played by Rod Gnapp with gusto and bluster, was called the Wolf, and behaved like one in the Crusades, chopping off noses and ears when not killing hordes of enemies.

Some aspects of the intricate relationship between Reginald and Saladin portrayed in the play are based on the historic interplay between the Arab ruler and the English King Richard the Lionheart, who had suggested to Saladin that his sister could marry Saladin's brother, with Jerusalem as their wedding gift.

In “Territories,” the heroine is Saladin's sister, a brilliant but crippled woman who is captured by Reginald, but in turn captivates the savage soldier. In a thrilling performance, Nora el Samahy creates a memorable figure of the “nameless sister” (called Alia here), who overcomes enormous physical, societal and cultural handicaps. To tell more would give away the ending.

“Territories” excels in its finale. While the show has satisfying finality, at the same time, its sends the audience out of the theater deep in thought, intrigued, and trying to work out the meaning of what had happened.

Jessica Heidt directs; Brandi Brandes provides background music on percussion. Monique Jenkinson created the unusual and effective choreography.

IF YOU GO

Territories

Where: Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, Buchanan Street and Marina Boulevard, San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 2:30 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Feb. 10

Tickets: $20 to $45 general; $5 to $25 sliding scale tickets may be available 30 minutes before performances

Contact: (415) 441-8822 or www.magictheatre.org.

artsentertainment

Just Posted

On Sunday, California bore the brunt of what meteorologists referred to as a bomb cyclone and an atmospheric river, a convergence of storms that brought more than half a foot of rain to parts of the Bay Area, along with high winds, concerns about flash floods and the potential for heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada. Much of the Bay Area was under a flash flood watch on Sunday, with the National Weather Service warning of the potential for mudslides across the region. (NOAA via The New York Times)
Bomb cyclone, atmospheric river combine to pummel California with rain and wind

What you need to know about this historic weather event

National Weather Service flood watch in the San Francisco Bay Area for Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021. (National Weather Service via Bay City News)
Storm pounds Bay Area, leaving over 145,000 without power: Closures and updates

Torrential rainfall causes flooding, triggers evacuations in burn areas

Plan Bay Area 2050 is an expansive plan guiding the region’s growth and development over the next three decades. The regional plan addresses progressive policy priorities like a universal basic income and a region-wide rent cap, alongside massive new spending on affordable housing and transportation infrastructure. (Shutterstock)
Plan Bay Area 2050: Analyzing an extensive regional plan that covers the next 30 years

Here are the big ticket proposals in the $1.4 trillion proposal

A collaborative workspace for a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) in Coordinape is pictured at a recent blockchain meet up at Atlas Cafe. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Business without bosses: San Francisco innovators battle bureaucracy with blockchain

‘The next generation will work for three DAOs at the same time’

Most Read