Kareem Fahmy brings some interesting perspectives in directing for the second Crescent and Star Staged Reading Series: Arab and Muslim Journeys. It features three in-development plays presented by Chicago-based Silk Road Rising.
Fahmy, a gay Canadian-born director of Egyptian descent who now lives in New York, stages the first reading on Aug. 5 and 6. It is Chicago-based Egyptian-American playwright Fouad Teymour's comedy Twice, Thrice, Frice, which looks at three modern Muslim women grappling with contrasting views on polygamy, fidelity and faith.
"Fouad clued me into this idea that these are conversations that are actually happening within a community of Muslims in certain urban areas like Chicago," Fahmy said. "I was initially surprised because I grew up Muslim, but I grew up isolated from a large community of other Muslims."
Due to his intersectional background, Fahmy feels he can give perspectives of both an insider and an outsider. Fahmy says he can zero in on ideas in Teymour's play that might be clear within an Egyptian community, but maybe not so much for those on the outskirts of it.
"There are not an infinite number of Middle-Eastern theater directors and theater makers," said Fahmy, who recently received a 2017 National Directors Fellowship by the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, Connecticut. "So looking at how these stories can open up a conversation between the Muslim community and the larger communityit was a no-brainer that this was something I wanted to work on."
Silk Road Rising founding artistic director Jamil Khoury brought in Fahmy to work with the company for the first time on the Crescent and Star Staged Reading Series. It is part of a larger overall mission of the company.
"We made a strong commitment to anti-Islamophobia activism and standing with American Muslims on behalf of civil rights," Khoury said. "But in particular, we align ourselves through communities within the larger Muslim community which is queer Muslims and feminist Muslims and progressive Muslims."
The next play in the reading series is Jihad Against Violence: Oh ISIS Up Yours! by Pakistani playwright Fawzia Afzal-Khan. Khoury says the play follows in the tradition of Muslim feminists who use Koranic texts to argue for gender justice and equity, while also being a satirical "stream-of-consciousness rant of sorts."
The concluding play is We Swim, We Talk, We Go to War by lesbian playwright Mona Mansour. Her past Chicago work includes the 2017 drama Unseen at Gift Theatre and her dark 2014 comedy The Way West at Steppenwolf Theatre Company.
We Swim, We Talk, We Go to War involves a progressive woman and her conservative nephew debating whether or not an Arab-American should enlist in the U.S. military. It's a co-commission with San Francisco's Golden Thread Productions and the Middle East America New Plays Initiative with New York's Lark Play Development Center.
"These three pieces become indicative of a larger commitment we have to changing the narrative about Islam in America," Khoury said. "It has been a part of our responsibility to create space for feminist and queer and progressive Muslim voices."
Silk Road Rising's Crescent and Star Staged Reading Series: Arab and Muslim Journeys takes place in Pierce Hall at the Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St. Fouad Teymour's Twice, Thrice, Frice plays Aug. 5-6. Fawzia Afzal-Khan's Jihad Against Violence: Oh ISIS Up Yours! plays Aug. 19-20. Mona Mansour's We Swim, We Talk, We Go to War plays Sept. 9 -10.
Each reading is at 4 p.m., and tickets are $10; call 312-857-1234, ext. 201, or visit SilkRoadRising.org .
Earlier this year, there was much ado in the theater community when the estate of the late gay playwright Edward Albee refused to license a production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? A company with plans to stage the drama at the 35-seat Shoebox Theater in Portland, Oregon, had intended to make the younger characters of Nick and Honey into an interracial couple by casting an African-American actor as the husband.
So it's interesting to note that Pulse Theatre Chicago, an itinerant company founded in 2014 to "break out of the conventions and barriers of repetitive casting archetypes," is producing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with two African-American performers. Pulse producing artistic director Chris Jackson is staging the production at the intimate City Lit Theater, and he isn't too worried that the rights might get pulled at the last minute due to a black George and Martha.
"We're not an Equity professional theater company and it didn't say anything in our contract that we would have to cast a certain way," Jackson said. "Typically, I cast very audibly. If I can hear the sound of the character as well as the believability of what we're asking, you're going to get the job. That's kind of how we work. It wasn't my intention to make a racial statement based upon the casting."
Jackson first heard about Albee's Tony Award-winning drama when one of his older gay friends jokingly remarked that his mother reminded him of the boozy and tough-talking character of Martha.
"It made me read the play and that's when I really fell in love with it," Jackson said, glad that one of his queer elders steered him to learn about the iconic piece of American drama that is filled with cutting dialogue. "It definitely comes up in my queer life."
Pulse Theatre Chicago's production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf plays through Sunday, Aug. 20, at City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets are $20; visit PulseTheatreChicago.com .