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Smoking guns: Hookah lounge hosts powerful play about Syrian conflict - Brooklyn Paper

Smoking guns: Hookah lounge hosts powerful play about Syrian conflict

War brides: Much of “I Come From Syria” revolves around a Syrian wedding, where party-goers take sides in the conflict and debate fleeing their home country.
Stephen Yang

Where there is smoke, there are fire fights.

Theatrical group Polybe and Seats’ is staging its new play about the conflict in Syria, “Anna Asli Suriyah” (“I Come From Syria”), inside Bay Ridge hookah lounge Beit Jeddo. The show goes far beyond the headlines to show the myriad responses battle-torn families are having to the three-years-on crisis.

Presented as a series of vignettes, the play draws on a mix of writer Sarah Badiyah Sakaan’s personal experiences, stories she’s collected, and news reports, sewing them together with an Arabic folktale told piecemeal between scenes. The production moves quickly but seamlessly between several narratives, though the pace can sometimes be dizzying. Still, the play’s emotional content outweighs minor structural issues, and it deftly avoids the pitfalls of preachy-ness.

There are funny moments too, but don’t expect a lark — this play is deadly serious. Even the lighter-hearted moments are couched in dark comedy — a Syrian expatriate housewife far from the strife casually waters houseplants as she recalls the rape of a Syrian woman, a Syrian comedian’s set is cut short with an arrest.

The plurality of perspectives about the crisis is the name of the game here.

The company stages a number of scenes as one-sided conversations between actor and audience, imparting a refugee’s sense of distance and helplessness while driving home the notion there cannot be a narrative about the crisis that is both all-encompassing and coherent.

Another scene subverts journalists’ claim to authority when a naive New York reporter who boasts a “working knowledge” of Arabic takes a tour of a refugee camp and is led around by the nose.

The production deserves big kudos for its use of technology and social media as a prop. In one scene, a Syrian refugee uses a cell phone to Skype with a family member. The phone’s feed plays from a television screen inside Beit Jeddo, giving the audience the impression it is the relative at the other end of the call.

Staging the play in a hookah lounge creates the perfect environment. Beit Jeddo sets the scene before the action even begins, and the theater-in-the-round staging immerses viewers in the action rather than allowing them to be hapless bystanders.

Smoking hookah is barred during the performance, but you can enjoy a snack during an optional coffee-and-pastry service with Halawet al-Jibn — the Lebanese cousin of cannoli.

“Anna Asli Suriyah” at Beit Jeddo Hookah Lounge (6917 Fifth Ave. between Bay Ridge and Ovington avenues, www.polybeandseats.org). Saturday–Tuesday, Aug. 9–26 at 7 pm. $18.

Crossing borders: A refugee camp director in Turkey (Ayse Eldek) confides in the audience as a reporter (Tom Giordano) interviews a Syrian refugee (Nuah Oryzel) in “I Come From Syria.”
Stephen Yang

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