The world's a stage as theaters spotlight Middle East

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

It is said that one of theater's greatest powers is its ability to transport audiences, and that's certainly true this month, when area theatergoers will all seem bound for one exotic destination: the Middle East. Several theaters are staging shows in the whirl of the desert, from Arena Stage's brightly hued "Arabian Nights" to the gripping Iraq drama "Black Watch" at Sidney Harman Hall.

Your itinerary to theatergoing this month:

'Return to Haifa' and Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival

To dive into its Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival, Theater J chose the head-first approach: It is presenting "Return to Haifa," which drew protests during its Israeli premiere. The play - staged here by the original Israeli theater company Cameri - is based on a novella by the late Palestinian writer Ghassan Kanafani and looks at a Palestinian couple who flee their home in the War of Independence, only to return two decades later to find Jewish refugees from Europe living in their former home. Sympathetic to both sides, "Haifa" went through much wrangling to arrive in Washington, and that may well be the reason to see it. It is being staged in the original Hebrew and Arabic with English surtitles. The festival also features readings of nine other works.

"Return to Haifa," through Jan. 30; Voices From a Changing Middle East Festival, through Feb. 27. Goldman Theater, Washington DCJCC, 1529 16th St. NW. 800-494-8497. . $30-$60; limited $15 tickets available for age 35 and younger. Tickets for the readings are $10.

'The Arabian Nights' For an excursion that's more escapist, you can hardly do better than Arena Stage's production of "The Arabian Nights." Helmed by director Mary Zimmerman, the show is packed with dervishes and dancers and drummers bringing to life stories of magic and intrigue, as told by a young woman who endeavors to win the mercy of her revenge-seeking king.

Through Feb. 20. Arena Stage at the Mead Center, 1101 Sixth St. SW. 202-488-3300. $40-$85.

'Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo'

Rajiv Joseph's Pulitzer-nominated play is headed to Broadway in March, but Washingtonians can get an early peek at the black comedy at Arena Stage's #NewPlay Festival, which is hosting readings Thursday and Friday. The play picks up amid the mass confusion that took hold during the invasion of Iraq in 2003: The government had all but collapsed, and American troops were left to contend with a city of abandoned palaces, gold treasures and a zoo teeming with forgotten animals.

Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m. Arena Stage at the Mead Center, 1101 Sixth St. SW. 202-488-3300. $20.

'Black Watch'

You can mark this import staged by the National Theatre of Scotland at the Shakespeare Theatre's Harman Hall as this winter's must-see show. An international sensation, the production by playwright Gregory Burke tells the story of Scotland's famed Black Watch military regiment through a heartbreaking loss in Iraq and its subsequent aftermath. Told as much through the senses - video, live music, movement and lights factor largely in this spectacle of a show - as it is through words, the play has had critics taking notes through tears.

Jan. 26-Feb. 6. Sidney Harman Hall, 610 F St. NW. 202-547-1122. $40-$85.

- Lavanya Ramanathan

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