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JewishJournal.com

September 11, 2003

How the Other Half Lives

http://www.jewishjournal.com/arts/article/how_the_other_half_lives_20030912

Call it "Trading Places." In Shakir Yusif Farsakh's surreal "Convergence," an Israeli commander and a Palestinian suicide bomb squad leader dream about the pain their acts inflict.

Farsakh, 41, is uniquely qualified to write the story: He is the son of a Brooklyn Jewish mother and a Palestinian father who met when the elder Farsakh spoke at her college club. While the couple agreed politically (Farsakh's mother studied Arabic and advocates two states), neither family was initially thrilled. His mother lived near Ramallah; hers raised funds for an Israeli hospital.

"Ultimately, the relationship was acceptable so long as certain things weren't discussed," Farsakh said.

He confronts those issues in "Convergence," which poured out of him in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Farsakh said he was so "horrified and demoralized" by the Middle East suicide bombings, he experienced sleepless nights and paranoia about receiving hostile stares on the street. In "Convergence" -- which he said reflects his ultra-left-wing views -- he felt "If each side experienced what it was like to be the 'other,' dialogue could begin."

The dialogue was heated, however, when Palestinian and Israeli actors converged in April to rework the script for director Anthony Barnao of Los Angeles' Blue Sphere Alliance.

"The play didn't reflect the Israeli pain; we were only oppressors," said Roy Avigdori, 28, who worked as a medic near Jenin during his compulsory military service.

"We revised scenes to reflect the reluctance of many Israelis to serve," actor Herzl Tobey, 30, said. "People don't want to stand in the sun at checkpoints for eight hours and make life difficult for themselves and others."

Bashar Daas, who said he was imprisoned for throwing stones at Israeli soldiers as a teen, related the hopelessness of would-be suicide bombers he met in jail. Although the 27-year-old Jerusalemite portrays both an Israeli and a suicide bomber, "an actor doesn't have to philosophically agree with his characters," he said.

Actor-playwright Avigdori ("The Palestinian Connection"), who also plays a Jew and an Arab, felt conflicted about humanizing a terrorist. But Farsakh continues to find "Convergence" healing.

"It has emotionally united the two halves of myself," he said.

"Convergence" runs at the Lex Theater, 6760 Lexington Ave., Hollywood, through Oct. 18. (323) 957-5782.

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