Playwright: Donna Blue Lachman and Rula Sirhan Gardenier
At: RPM Productions at the Hot House
Phone: (312) 362-9207; $20-$25
Runs through: March 21
It should come as no surprise that Americans don't understand the continuing battle over Israeli-Pakistani boundaries any more than they did the 'troubles' in Ireland 20 years earlier. Most playwrights address the topic through an assemblage of talking-head personalities hurling historical minutiae at one another, pie-fight fashion, until they are emotionally drained and we are intellectually exhausted. But in ...For You Were A Stranger..., co-writers Donna Blue Lachman and Rula Sirhan Gardenier return to the fundamental rules of storytelling, SHOWING us, and not simply telling us, about the legacy of civil unrest between Jews and Arabs.
Our odyssey begins circa 2000 B.C.E., when companions Sarai (called Sarah in the Bible's Old Testament) and Hagar find themselves increasingly disturbed by their tribal leader's monotheistic obsession, Hagar finally fleeing with her son, Ishmael, leaving Sarai and HER son, Isaac. We then jump to 1492 Spain, where Moorish culture flourishes in the Andalusian provinces, Judaism and Islam coexisting in peaceful tolerance—until the Christians force their exile, burning their mosques, temples and libraries.
Finally, amid the ruins of the 'six-day war' of 1967, we meet another two women—an elderly holocaust survivor, living in the house that was the childhood home of a young Pakistani wife preparing to emigrate to America. Initially, they swap the usual 'you people' accusations, but hostility eventually gives way to recognition of their shared experiences, followed by ironic appreciation and grim acceptance of a heritage comprised of exile and assimilation.
Condensing centuries of history to under 90 minutes of narrative demanded some four years of its authors' lives, but their industry pays off in concise and articulate arguments that, more often than not, lead to agreement. And if Lachman's characterizations tend toward a more earthy humor than those of the operatically ingenuous Gardenier (When Abraham vows to kill his son—Ishmael in one version of the story, Isaac, in the other—at the bidding of his unseen deity, both mothers rant against this draconian test of faith, Sarai hurling at Yahweh the consummate matriarchal invective, 'you BACHELOR god!'), their discourse makes for an intelligent and provocative evening.