A chance encounter between a young Palestinian radical and an elderly Holocaust survivor takes an unexpected turn when L.A. Theatre Works presents "Sixteen Wounded" at the Skirball Cultural Center from Jan. 26-30.
The reading of the five-character play, following last year's Broadway run, stars Ron Rifkin as Hans, the survivor, and Omar Metwally as Mahmud, the young Arab.
According to the play's synopsis: "The life of an emotionally remote Jewish baker in Amsterdam is turned upside down when a young Palestinian radical is hurled through his store's window. Two worlds collide as the young man's expectations about his lifelong enemies are confounded by truths more complicated than he is prepared to accept. Friendship struggles against seemingly inevitable violence as each man tries to reach beyond the limits of the age-old conflict that has defined them."
In its review, The New York Times noted that "some plays have the power to provoke. 'Sixteen Wounded' may well stun you into silence."
Thirty-one-year-old playwright Eliam Kraiem said in a call from New York that he wrote the first draft of the play 10 years ago, when he was a student at Cal Arts in Valencia.
Kraiem, who is the son of Rabbi Judith Halevy of the Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, said he rewrote the draft after returning from one of his many visits to the Jewish state, where he visited his Israeli father's relatives.
"That was in 1998, a comparatively calm year, and I was able to meet with Palestinians on the other side of the Green Line," he recalled.
"I was struck by how similar Jews and Arabs were on either side of the line in their sense of humor, the way they did business and the manner in which they talked to strangers," he added.
While working as a river rafting guide and stagehand, Kraiem continued revising the play, and in 2001, the off-Broadway Cherry Lane Theatre produced it for the first time.
The following year, the prestigious Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven staged "Sixteen Wounded" with Martin Landau as the survivor, and last year it premiered at the Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway with Judd Hirsch.
The play had a fairly short run but earned a Tony nomination for Metwally, who has portrayed the young radical in all productions.
Kraiem declined to explain the title of his first play, but advised that "once you've seen it, you'll understand the title."
L.A. Theatre Works has presented "The Play's the Thing" over National Public Radio (NPR) stations for most of the company's 30 years and producing director Susan Albert Loewenberg has accumulated a library of 360 recorded stage plays, ranging from the classics to modern and new plays.
The plays are generally broadcast six to eight weeks after the live performances and can be heard locally over KPCC-FM (89.3), in Ventura and Santa Barbara over KCLU-FM (88.3) and on XM satellite radio.
Audiocassettes and CDs of the broadcasts are sold throughout the world and can be found in some 4,000 American libraries and 2,500 high schools.
Although Loewenberg can pay her actors only minimum scale, she has enlisted some of Hollywood's and Broadway's brightest names.
Both actors and audiences are attracted by the intimacy and focus of the performance, she said.
"Some people ask me why they should see a play without costumes or light effect," she added. "But when you sit a few feet away from the stage, without any distractions, you hear the words in a way you've never experienced before. It's a compelling encounter."
Performances of "Sixteen Wounded" at the Skirball Center will start at 8 p.m. on Jan. 26, 27 and 28, and on Sunday, Jan. 30, at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. No performance on Saturday, Jan. 29. Following the Thursday and Sunday performances, Kraiem will meet with the audiences for Q-and-A sessions. He will be joined on Thursday evening by Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom in Santa Monica.
Tickets ($20-$45) may be ordered by calling (310) 827-0889, or visiting www.latw.org.