This coming fall The Play Company is producing the U.S. premier of Oh My Sweet Land, written and directed by Amir Nizar Zuabi. We can’t wait to introduce you to the work of this incredible theatre artist. Over the next few months, we’ll be using the Hub to explore some of the play’s themes that we find exciting: themes of creating empathy through art, food, and notions of “home”. We will explore these ideas by digging deep into the people, stories, and history related to our upcoming production.
Oh My Sweet Land was inspired by a journey to Syrian refugee camps in Amman, Jordan where hundreds of thousands of people live in limbo, unable to return to the violence that continues to tear their country apart nor to fully move on with life. There, Amir and his co-conceiver of the piece, Corinne Jaber listened to the incredible stories of the survivors who fled their homeland in order to save their lives. They documented the motivations and witnessed the conditions of the camps some Syrians are forced to endure in search of a viable future for themselves and their families.
The result is a one-woman tour de force performance with immersive impact. Step into the kitchen where you can smell the onions sizzle and feel the heat rising. Your host is in the middle of preparing kubah, a traditional Syrian dish. While she cooks, she tells us the story of meeting Ashraf, a Syrian exile, and falling in love with him as he desperately tries to help those he was forced to leave behind. When he vanishes, she impulsively trails him to her homeland—one she has never known, and is now consumed by war. As the meal comes together and then falls apart, we learn the stories of brutality, grace and humanity of those she encountered along the way.
According to Amir in the published preface to the play, what stood out even more than the words of the refugees was “their spirit- that elastic rubber-like ability Man has to adapt and to weather the storm.” It is in this spirit, to access something deeper than the news-cycle sound bites; to point to the ineffable humanity that binds an American audience to this distant conflict, that PlayCo will produce Oh My Sweet Land in non-theatrical settings.
Performing in spaces where different communities gather is essential to our production of Amir’s piece. We hope that inhabiting a home we have been invited into rather than acting in a theatrical space, gives added resonance to the themes of generous empathy and shared experiences. It also emphasizes the ostensive lack of such a space for the characters in our story. By performing in homes and community centers across New York we hope the intimacy and familiarity of the space will spark a connection to people and places worlds apart. By performing for small audiences each night we hope to build a supportive community. And by engaging the senses we hope to create a visceral experience that allows audiences to hear and feel this story in a fresh, substantive way.
The act of cooking is also a central element of the performance. Not only is access to adequate nutrition an essential human right that is often in peril for refugees, it is also emblematic of the Syrian culture, which is equally at risk. For our host, preparing kubah is a connection to her heritage and her family, as well as a small act of resistance in the face of global forces.
Performed in a new space every night, the itinerancy of the performance reflects the movement of the people who inhabit the story. It also provides a unique set of parameters for our creative team, which we will investigate through a series of interviews in our Artist Spotlight series on the HUB.
Oh My Sweet Land had its world premiere in Lauseanne, Switzerland and has been seen in London at The Young Vic, Dublin at the Abbey Theater, in Amsterdam, Abu Dhabi, Mumbai, and Toronto. The script is published by Bloomsbury. Nadine Malouf will take on the role in our U.S. Premier with rehearsals starting mid-August. Tickets go on sale mid-July and performances begin in September in a home near you.