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Centretown News Online
Thursday, April 24, 2014
 
Youth explore conflict in local play
Wednesday, 03 December 2008
By Brendan Ross
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Playwright Samah Sabawi could be confused for a babysitter lately, but even though the cast of her latest play consists of more than 20 children, she doesn’t feel like one.

“Backstage is going to be a lot of fun every night,” she says, laughing. “We’ll just have to bring a lot of puzzles and I don’t know what.”

The play, called Three Wishes, runs at the Gladstone Theatre until Dec. 13.

It’s based on a book by Ontario writer and activist Deborah Ellis. The book itself consists of a series of interviews with both Israeli and Palestinian children about their lives and the ongoing conflict that affects them.

Sabawi, a Palestinian originally from Gaza, says she bought the book years ago for her son so he could learn about the Israeli side of the conflict. She says the book moved him to write a speech based on it for school.

“I saw the impact it had on him and just thought, ‘wow’.”

Sabawi decided to write a stage adaptation of Ellis’s book when Potlucks for Peace, a monthly meeting of Ottawa Arabs and Jews that she is a member of, decided to put on a play two years ago. Remembering the children’s powerful stories, Sabawi recommended the book.

Sabawi previously wrote a play called Cries From the Land in 2004, with her father Abdel-Karim Sabawi, a notable Palestinian poet.

Sabawi says the dialogue in Three Wishes is completely taken from the book with no alterations, to ensure fairness to both sides.

Qais Ghanem, the founder of Potlucks for Peace, says this is the best way to represent the conflict.

“The nice thing about it is that these are the words of children, and children are innocent and naïve,” says Ghanem. “They don’t know how to lie, the expressions come from the heart.”

To represent these children’s voices on stage, Sabawi and director Alain Chamsi have cast 22 adolescents, some of whom have little acting experience, in both lead and supporting roles.   

Chamsi says this is the first time he’s worked with children for a production, but it isn’t as hard as one might imagine.

“Obviously sometimes they get a little unruly if you don’t keep them excited and interested, but…I’m fascinated by how awesome they’ve become,” he says.

Chamsi says he’s found working with the children refreshing.

“Kids bring a different view to things,” he says. “And when you talk to them, they really listen to you.”

Despite the play’s focus on children, Sabawi says she hopes parents will use discretion in taking kids to the play.

“There isn’t a happy ending,” she says. “Things aren’t rosy in Palestine/Israel.”

In 2006, the Canadian Jewish Congress lobbied school boards across Ontario to have Ellis’s book removed from schools’ Silver Branch reading program, claiming passages in the book misrepresented the conflict.

A representative for the Jewish Federation of Ottawa had no comment on the play.

Last Updated ( Friday, 23 January 2009 )
 
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