A Tale of One Play in Two Cities, a post by Tammy Ryan

See below for the beginning of Tammy Ryan‘s post on HowlRound, of LOST BOY FOUND IN WHOLE FOODS:

In March 2016, I traveled from my home base in Pittsburgh to see two productions of my play Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods, first at the Portland Stage Company, a LORT theatre in Maine, and then in May, at the Omaha Community Playhouse, the largest civic theatre in Nebraska. Both companies are prominent theatres in their predominantly white cities where large populations of asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants are arriving and resettling in increasing numbers. Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods is about Christine, a white woman who meets Gabriel, a Sudanese refugee in Pittsburgh in 2004 and invites him to live with her. The play began as an exploration of the difficulty in helping others, and one woman’s response to the refugee crisis exploding in southern Sudan. In the years since the play’s world premiere, our awareness of the world refugee crisis has expanded. Having the chance to see these two productions and witness the response from a diverse collision of audiences within months of each other, helped me see how my play had evolved in this new context, playing in these two ostensibly different but in many ways quintessentially American cities.

Gabriel (Tyrone Davis, Jr.) and Christine (Mhari Sandoval) in Lost Boy Found at Whole Foods at Portland Stage Company. Photo by Aaron Flacke.

The Lost Boys of Sudan
In the early ’90s, during the Second Sudanese Civil War, Arab fighters in the north were burning and destroying villages in the south, resulting in an exodus of young boys escaping into the bush. The boys, ranging in age from four to eighteen years old, gathered in the tens of thousands, trekking across Africa where they faced starvation, attacks by wild animals, and bombings before reaching refugee camps in Kenya, where they lived on a bowl of grain a day for ten years. In 2001, 3,600 boys from Kakuma were resettled in cities across the United States, including Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Syracuse, St. Louis, Portland, Omaha, and Pittsburgh. After 9/11, this resettlement program was halted. In spring of 2003, I was invited to participate in a project with Catholic Charities and Playback Theatre working with a group of young men from Sudan; the resulting play entitled, Long Journey Home, gave voice to their experiences coming to this country. At the time I was as clueless as most Americans as to what they’d survived, but I was profoundly moved by their resilience, courage, faith, and sense of purpose.

After the project completed, a Whole Foods store opened in my neighborhood. The first day I walked in I saw a young Sudanese “team member,” feeding a papaya to a middle-aged white woman in the midst of the produce section surrounded by the abundance found in American grocery stores. The irony of that moment: the stories I knew he carried and that I assumed, this woman might not know, would become the basis for the play I would write. For the next seven years, I immersed myself in everything I could learn about the Sudan, the “lost boys,” the Dinka tribe, their stories, history, and culture, and began to imagine the story of the play. By 2008 I had a first draft, in 2009 it was developed at the New Harmony Project and in 2010, Premiere Stages and Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey co-produced the world premiere. In 2012 Lost Boy won the ATCA’s Francesca Primus Prize. Three years later, I got a call from Anita Stewart, artistic director of the Portland Stage Company that she wanted to produce it. Around the same time, the Omaha Community Playhouse did a reading, which led to their production. The timing was right; each theatre was looking for a play like this. Stewart wanted to connect with the growing African populations in Portland, when the actor who played Gabriel in New Jersey, Warner Miller, recommended it to her and dramaturg Heather Helinsky had given it to Ellen Struve, then literary manager at OCP for the same reason. But it wasn’t until I had my boots on the ground in both of these places, that I understood “in my belly,” (as the Dinka would say) why it was inevitable that these theatres produced Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods this year.

From Portland to Omaha
After arriving in Portland, a chatty taxicab driver took me on a tour, pointing out the harbor, the restaurants, the New England architecture. As we passed the Maine Historical Society on Congress Street, I asked him what the bunches of multi-colored objects hanging from the fence were: “Lobster buoys,” he said. What he didn’t mention was that it was part of an exhibit by University of Southern Maine, artist-in-residence, Natasha Mayers working withthe Portland Public Schools, to paint seventy lobster buoys with the colors of flags representing seventy different countries the “New Mainers” hailed from. Walking around downtown, I sensed a tension that exists despite this welcome. The Old Mainers, many who’d lived there for generations find themselves sharing their city with a growing population of New Mainers: people who’d fled their faraway home countries, who are trying to adapt to this country and learn a new language, find a job, get an education, start a new life. At the theatre on opening night, a mainly white subscriber audience filled the seats, but there were also groups of New Mainers joining them, expectant, excited, and a little nervous.

Read the full article from HowlRound by Tammy Ryan, here.

Mashuq Mushtaq Deen’s Solo, Draw the Circle, Chronicles His Female-to-Male Transition

Mashuq Mushtaq Deen stars in PRC’s world premiere of Draw the Circle (photo by HuthPhoto)

PlayMakers Repertory Company will kick off its 2016-17 season on Aug. 24-28 with the world premiere of DRAW THE CIRCLE, an autobiographical one-man show about his female-to-male transition written and performed by Mashuq Mushtaq Deen and directed by Chay Yew. There will be a freewheeling talkback with the artists and selected subject-matter experts, following each performance of this provocative PRC2 production in the Elizabeth Price Kenan Theatre in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Dramatic Art.

On his website, Deen describes this intensely personal yet universal play as “The hilarious and deeply moving story of conservative Muslim mother at her wits’ end, a Muslim father who likes to tell jokes, and a queer American woman trying to make a good impression on her Indian in-laws. In a story about family and love and the things we do to be together, one immigrant family must come to terms with a child who defies their most basic expectations of what it means to have a daughter … and one woman will redefine the limits of unconditional love.”

“The story is autobiographical, so in a way, the story conceived me,” claims Mashuq Mushtaq Deen. “People ask, When did you ‘transition’?, as if it’s a point in time. It was more than a decade in the making — years of resisting, coming to terms, resisting again.”

He adds, “I finally decided to write about it, because I thought the story could do some good in the world, could help other people feel less alone than I felt. But when I began the telling, I realized I wasn’t as interested in my own journey, I had already lived through it. The exploration I could sustain — and writing for me is both exploration and a lengthy commitment, as plays can take years — was the journey of the other characters, those who loved me and didn’t want me to change. And certainly, writing the play also helped me to understand my family in a different way.

“While I was writing [Draw the Circle], I did a lot of research on solo shows,” Deen recalls. “I was most inspired by my friend and colleague Jessica Dickey’s piece, The Amish Project [– which is] a brilliant piece of theater, if you ever get to see it[.] In that play, she portrays all the characters around the Amish community; and through that negative space, if you will, the audience gets a much more complicated version of the heart and soul of this Amish community.

^Taken from Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s Review of DRAW THE CIRCLE, read the full review here.

Learn more about DRAW THE CIRCLE, here.

Theater Review: Engaging ‘Relativity’ at FST gazes into Einstein’s world

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Ginger Lee McDermott, left, plays a reporter interviewing Albert Einstein, played by Robert Zukerman in the world premiere of “Relativity” by Mark St. Germain at Florida Studio Theatre. PHOTO PROVIDED BY FST

Mark St. Germain tackles a lot of thought-provoking and entertaining ideas in the stimulating world premiere of “Relativity” at Florida Studio Theatre, which commissioned this play about the public and private sides of Albert Einstein.

He contrasts Einstein the brilliant physicist against the private man who was so focused on his research that he detached himself from his family and the world (except for publicity purposes). He is presented as the stereotypical absent-minded professor, who may have discovered the theory of relativity but can’t remember his home address.

More importantly, it offers a sometimes fascinating (occasionally overstuffed) debate about whether you can be a great man without being a good man. You might do important things that help advance our understanding of the universe , but is it meaningless without a sense of humanity, love and compassion for those closest to you?

These are weighty issues for an 80-minute play without intermission, but St. Germain builds on them with both seriousness and a good amount of humor to make them relatable (aside from a brief discussion about some scientific theories that lost me).

Robert Zukerman as Albert Einstein in the world premiere of Mark St. Germain's play "Relativity" at Florida Studio Theatre. PHOTO PROVIDED BY FST

Robert Zukerman as Albert Einstein in the world premiere of Mark St. Germain’s play “Relativity” at Florida Studio Theatre. PHOTO PROVIDED BY FST

All these ideas emerge from the play’s focus on Einstein’s personal life and what may have happened to the daughter, Leiserl, he had with his first wife, Mileva, before they were married. Apparently, there was no mention of the girl after she was about 2 years old. Did she die of scarlet fever? Was she given away by a family friend because the young couple couldn’t afford to raise her? Could she be the woman now interviewing him for a newspaper article for the Jewish Daily in his Princeton University office in 1948?

There has been speculation about what happened to Leiserl, and St. Germain offers his own possibilities about the woman she might have become, the events in her life and how they keep tying back to her famous father. The questions begin as Margaret Harding interviews him in a personal way about his two sons (from whom he is estranged), an old family friend and about Mileva. She wants to know what happened to Leiserl….

While there are a few exchanges that sound a bit formal compared to the rest, the play zips along and leaves you with plenty to think and talk about and perhaps eager to look anew at the life and work of Einstein.

Read the full article from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune here.

St. Germain’s ‘Relativity’ has world premiere in Sarasota

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Ginger Lee McDermott and Robert Zukerman star in “Relativity” at Florida Studio Theatre in Sarasota.

It’s a little-known aspect of one the most well-known lives of the 20th century.

In 1987, letters between Albert Einstein and his first wife, Mileva, were discovered. The letters indicated that the couple had a daughter, born in 1902, the year before they were married. The daughter’s name was Lieserl, and there is virtually nothing known about her other than a couple of references in letters from 1903.

“No one knows what happened to her,” playwright Mark St. Germain said…

The FST director and cast have helped form the play, St. Germain said. In fact, the script wasn’t “frozen” — which essentially means finished, at least for this production — until Monday.

“I’m very pleased,” said St. Germain, who came to Sarasota from his home in Woodstock, N.Y., for this staging. “Jason Cannon is doing a great job as a director. We have actors who have helped shape the play. They’re intelligent and they’re thoughtful. This is one of the best casts I’ve ever worked with.”

Details: June 23-July 2, Keating Theatre at Florida Studio Theatre, 1241 N. Palm Ave, Sarasota. $25-$39. 941-366-9000,floridastudiotheatre.org.
Read more of the article from the Bradenton Herald here.

Of Love, Nourishment and Compassion: Ryan’s LOST BOY FOUND IN WHOLE FOODS


Of love, nourishment and compassion: Beauty and insight inhabit this sometimes sorrowful microcosm by Gordon Spencer

Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods Omaha

Compassion dwells in the heart of Tammy Ryan’s 2010 play Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods .  Significant multiple meanings of the title abound as well. As the performance at Omaha Community Playhouse progresses, the intelligent depth within becomes more and more impressive, until even sorrowful, disturbing elements reveal touching beauty.

A Sudanese refugee, no longer called by his ancestral tribal name, has acquired an alternate identity:  “Gabriel.” Torn from his roots, he is one of the surviving escapees from the horrors of civil war, collectively, historically known as “Lost Boys of Sudan.”   Out of his childhood and out of Africa, he has found his way across continents to live in our land of plenty, no longer existing by eating weeds, insects and tiny grains of wheat. Despite being saved, he can never be entirely complete until he finds himself reunited with his family in his own land.  

Ryan explores this type of story, certainly not a unique one in real life. With her special points of view, she does not create a history lesson nor some kind of moral fable. She portrays real human beings, with their complexities, their flaws, their bright dimensions and their darker ones.

At the glowing center stands Millard North High School junior Justice Jamal Jones impressively and majestically inhabiting the role of Gabriel—a perfect match for what the writer has written.

Among the hills and valleys of Pittsburgh, Gabriel finds nourishment and stability working with vegetables and fruits of the market. There he intersects with affluent single mom Christine who reaches out to him, offering the comfort of her home. She and he interact with her sometimes emotionally displaced teenage daughter, Alex. The domestic relationships do not run smoothly, complicated by visits by seemingly dangerous Panther, who fled Sudan with Gabriel.

Kind Christine does all she can trying to re-connect Gabriel with his mother back in his homeland, aided by social worker Segel Mohammed, a Moslem.     

In these scenes and others Ryan perceptively explores the realities of Gabriel’s and Christine’s behavior and motivation, as they ask questions of themselves and each other, the essence being that no such situation can be simple. In time, we also learn that, despite Gabriel’s easy smile and seeming sunshine, he remains haunted—as does Panther, whose inner life, gradually revealed, also calls for empathy and understanding. Here again Ryan evokes sympathetic understanding, looking beneath the surface.  

She not only brings much food for thought to the table, including traces of American racism, she  also impressively incorporates background about native tribal practices and pride of family, perhaps as alien to us as would be, to many Africans, the strains within the white mother and daughter’s home.

Director Lara Marsh has staged this with unerring insight, keeping the performances genuine, blending them into something natural and truthful. There Rusheaá Smith-Turner shines full of personality as Sergel Muhammed. At all times, too, Julie Fitzgerald Ryan’s version of Christine remains especially convincing.

Omaha percussionist Vince Krysl has provided excellent music to underscore the drama, a fine choice, given the African background of the story, and Steven Williams’ set of fragmented pieces of a map, symbolically, pointedly echoes the fragmented lives traversing those spaces.

Without this script ever saying so directly, there are overtones and undertones of what it must be like in our present day for refugees from Syria’s horrors trying to eke out existence, camping in mud along the borders of Europe.

Even as they move—and this play moves on to its complex conclusion—so might we all be moved.

Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods is performed through June 5 at Howard Drew Theatre, Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St. Thurs.-Sat.: 7:30 p.m. Sunday: 2 p.m. Tickets $18-$36. http://www.OmahaPlayhouse.org

posted at 08:21 pm
on Monday, May 09th, 2016