By Richard Schultz, June 2016 Issue.

After iTheatre Collaborative’s originally scheduled season closer, The Velocity of Autumn, was postponed until fall, artistic director Chris Haines had his work cut out for him.

To conclude the theater’s 13th season, he opted to present three one-act plays by prominent Arab-American playwright, Yussef El Guindi: Hostages, The Birds Flew In and The Tyrant.

Haines said he became aware of Hostages during his college days.

“I was a sophomore at Duke University in 1988,” he said. “Yussef was teaching playwriting there at the time when I saw Hostages. Charles St. Clair played the guard in that production. It then went on to New York to play at Primary Stage for a short run.”

Last summer, Haines found himself searching for something current that was about being a hostage.

Yussef El Guindi. Photo courtesy of facebook.com/mixedbloodtheatre.

“ISIS had just beheaded a bunch of Syrians,” he said. “Out of the blue, I remembered Yussef’s play. I hadn’t spoken to him since college. I was able to get a hold of him and reacquaint myself.”

As a result, El Guindi’s work will make its regional premiere May 20-29 at the Herberger Theater Center’s Kax Stage.

In Hostages, directed by Charles St. Clair, two professors (played by Mike Traylor and Todd Issac) have left their homeland for a war-zone. They were there on a mission of peace, but peace is hard to find when you are chained to a radiator.

Rosemary Close directs Dolores Goldsmith in a one-woman monologue titled The Birds Flew In, which about an Arab-American mother and the anguish she faces after her son is killed while serving in the U.S. Army on a mission in Iraq. She grapples with the hatred of Muslims expressed by many in this country and her own feelings.

“This little play of 20 minutes is going to shake people to their core,” Hainessaid, adding that he was particularly moved by this heart-wrenching play.

The Tyrant imagines if a Middle Eastern dictator, who has been deposed and arrested, were ever given the opportunity to speak to an American audience to give his side of the story. This regional premiere offers a look inside “the war on terror” at the human beings caught up in the bloody conflict.

Haines, who plays the show’s title character

“These plays are about humans in extraordinary circumstances,” Haines said. “The people are clinging to their humanity, who they are. Like all of us in today’s world, these characters are struggling to maintain their respect and identity.”

Haines recognizes the need for these stories to be shared with new audiences and has accepted the challenge of presenting three one-act plays together.

“If there is a challenge, it is that there is little room to get comfortable with the characters,” he said. “In Hostages, there’s little exposition. They don’t know why or where or for how long they are being held. The other two plays are both one-person monologues. Each has their story to tell, but only the one character moves it forward.”

Haines hopes that these plays speak to current phobia around Islam.

“Only until the success of Disgraced has there been any focus on Arab-American plays,” he said. “Playwright Yussef El Guindi has been writing and publishing plays for a long time, but is only just now starting to be recognized for his work. His full-length Jihad Jones and the Kalashnikov Babes is very funny. It is a little like an Arab version of Hollywood Shuffle.”

Yussef El Guindi was born in Egypt, raised in London and now based in Seattle. He received a Bachelor of Arts from American University in Cairo and a 1985 Master’s of Fine Arts in playwriting from Carnegie-Mellon University. He frequently examines the intersectionality of ethnicities, cultures and politics that face Arab-Americans. He has had at least 16 plays produced since 2001 in regional theaters from Durham, N.C. to Anchorage, Ala.

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