Home Sweet Home: An Interview With Oh My Sweet Land Hosts

Linda Morgan, Jan Cantler, and Sarah Frazier are three of our many Oh My Sweet Land hosts who graciously opened their doors to us. Their homes gave us spaces to light, stages to roam, and kitchens to cook in. In this interview we discussed the significance of hosting a show in their own homes, the intimacy of site-based work, and how this story changed their understanding of the events in Syria.

Pre-show rehearsal at Linda Morgan’s home. Photo by Molly Shea

What does it mean to you to host an event like this in your own home?

Linda Morgan: We have always loved live theater and particularly plays in small theaters because of the intimacy and the greater feeling of connection. That is something that is reduced by distance from the actors and too many distracting bodies all around you. Having theater in your home is the ultimate experience of connection to the playwright’s work and the performance. I believe that theatre creators can learn from the experience of Oh My Sweet Land, or rather have further evidence of what they already know: that the closer audience members feel to the action, words, facial expressions, and body language of the actor(s), the deeper the experience they will have and the more they will internalize and take away from the playwright’s work.

Why did you agree to hosting this show in your home?

The pre-show audience gathering outside of Jan Cantler’s home. Photo by Molly Shea.

Jan Cantler: Bringing theater to my home is one step more intimate.  I have hosted Gideon Irving doing his one-man map of songs, Living Here, and Ben Katz’s performance of his character, Aaron Pearlman.  It is a tremendous amount of work to prepare my home, but it is so gratifying to invite people into a transformed space for a not-to-be replicated experience.

Linda Morgan: We wanted to support the show and have a memorable experience, which we knew this would be.  Plays in translation or by writers from other countries promote international understanding and a more informed world view.

What does the story of Oh My Sweet Land mean to you?

Linda Morgan: Oh My Sweet Land creates a connection to and a critical awareness of the current horrors of war, and the great human tragedy that this war is for the Syrian people and the country’s rich culture. Nadine is brilliant at conveying the stories of individual suffering produced by the manipulations of greedy and power hungry leaders and nations, as Amir has so beautifully told them.

Sarah Frazier: To me, it was a story about how being unmoored from your physical home can be just as traumatizing as being separated in a spiritual sense.

(from left to right) Amir Nizar Zuabi, Nadine Malouf, and Aaron Gonzalez taking a break between an afternoon technical rehearsal and the evening performance. Photo by Molly Shea

What do you think people can take away from seeing a show like this set in people’s homes?

Jan Cantler: Hosting Oh My Sweet Land is especially intimate as it is in my kitchen.  Amir Nizar Zuabi has written a story that takes us through one of the most dangerous places imaginable and presents it in an amazingly beautiful, compelling and deeply moving experience. Through the act of cooking a classic Syrian family dish, Nadine Malouf captures the nuance and emotional state of each character in her story.  The smell of the onions literally made me teary. And, her use of a knife only elevates the feeling of the dangers she faces in the story – and, the actor faces in real time. Seeing this show in a real kitchen enhanced by an authentic sensory experience is beyond theatrical.  I would host and see this show again in a heartbeat.

Sarah Frazier: I think I was skeptical at first that performing the play in a real kitchen would have contributed so much to the performance, but it really made a difference. I can’t speak to what other people might have felt, but for me it made it very visceral to watch someone so close to you go through this emotional experience and not be able to intervene. I think it made me think a little deeper about how I react to situations around the globe as a person, as a mother, and as an American.

Interview by Nicholas Leung