Saturday, August 31, 2013

THE FREEDOM THEATRE: BORN IN A PRISON CAMP












A refugee camp on the West Bank in Palestine would seem an unlikely place to find a burgeoning new theater company but don't tell the courageous members of The Freedom Theatre.  Founded as an independent cultural center in the Jenin Refugee Camp in 2006, The Freedom Theatre was the dream child of Israeli-Palestinian actor Juliano Mer Khamis.

To the inspired founding theater head, "My dream is that The Freedom Theatre will be the major force cooperating with others in generating a cultural resistance, carrying on its shoulders universal values of freedom and justice."  These lofty goals were severely challenged on April 4, 2011 when Mer Khamis was shot and killed in broad daylight just steps away from The Freedom Theatre.  To date, no one has been charged with his murder.  Mer Khamis is often quoted for saying about himself "I am 100% Palestinian and 100% Jewish."

The Freedom Theatre is traveling to America and to the University of Connecticut as part of a four stop tour, for three performances Friday, September 6 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, September 7 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the Nafe Katter Theatre.  The tour will continue in Providence, Washington, D. C. and New York City.

The play they are offering is "The Island" by South African playwright Athol Fugard, a play that explores the lives of two prisoners in the apartheid regime.  Inspired by a true story, it is set on the infamous Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for almost three decades.  At the center are two prisoners, John and Winston, who by day shovel sand in a never-ending labor that does not move the grains any closer to completion.  By night the men rehearse a play, the tale of "Antigone" by Sophocles.  This powerful tale of an unlikely friendship and the challenges of achieving a level of humanity in this terrible ordeal will star Faisal Abu Alhayjaa and Ahmad Alrakh, both residents of the Jenin Refugee Camp.

According to Gary M. English, Professor of Dramatic Arts at UCONN and director of this dramatic piece, " 'The Island" is political drama at its best, with political ideas embedded within the characters and their experience.  It is universal in its themes - including the tragedy of those who anywhere in the world are unjustly imprisoned for purely political reasons, beliefs, or for simply speaking out against injustice."

For tickets ($10), call the UCONN box office at 860-486-2113 or online at www.crt.uconn.edu.   The productions are at the Nafe Katter Theatre, 820 Bolton Road, Storrs.

Hope and despair collide as two prisoners almost become brothers as they are confined to a small space that, despite its size, doesn't limit their dreams.

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