note: entire contents copyright 2008 by Robin McGuire
The juxtaposition of the Middle East, an old country, steeped in religious beliefs and traditions and America, fairly new, more modern in style and faith, collide in Sinan Unel’s The Cry of thy Reed. Presenting the complexity of these two cultures in faith, religion and relationships in today’s very complicated world, the images and spirit of the drama will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.
The story takes place in 2004 after the United States invasion of Iraq, centering on Sevgi, a young American/Turkish journalist who feels compelled to search for what she believes is the truth of the Iraq people’s plight in highly volatile Tal Afar, a city in Northern Iraq. Even though her newspaper forbids the trip she enlists the help of another, more worldly journalist, Philip, to accompany her on the dangerous journey. Soon the two find themselves kidnapped and held hostage by insurgents. Meanwhile Sevgi’s American lover, Josh, travels to Turkey to find Sevgi by engaging her estranged mother Ayla, a Sufi cleric of the 13th century poet Rumi, in the search.
Unel’s provocative and dramatically powerful tale weaves together a composite of two very different societies by demonstrating human beings most basic need for love and acceptance.
Brilliantly staged by director, Daniel Goldstein, Sevgi and Josh’s story unfolds side-by-side presenting Sevgi and Philip’s torture and fear at the hands of their captors at the same time, Ayla and Josh deal with their grief and cultural biases.
The commanding and arresting hostage scenes are not for the weak at heart. Many of Thomas Schall’s well-staged fight sequences are disturbing and the lighting and sound techniques of Michael Chybowski and Eric Shim, respectively, provide a dramatic jolt.
Sean Dugan as Josh and Lisa Birnbaum’s Sevgi are well matched to their roles as the star-crossed lovers. Darren Pettie portraying Philip completes the love triangle and it is his stirring performance of a tortured captive that steals every scene.
Ayla, beautifully played by Cigdem Onat, is the strongest character and bestows the balance of the two cultures. She is the tie that binds the old and new traditions stating, “faith is learning to live with uncertainty.” It is the complexity of faith in relationships and the illusion of power that makes The Cry of the Reed such a gripping saga.
Amir Arison supplies the comic relief as Ayla’s servant Hakan, a student of the Mevlevi Order known as the “whirling dervishes.” The whirling dervish believes in the idea of transporting oneself to mystical revelation through dance and music and is an underlining theme in the play. Hakan’s innocence and passion for his faith offers the subtle response to the anger and despair of Sevgi and Philips captor’s.
The Cry of the Reed is emotional calisthenics and just like a physical workout it may not feel good at the time, but afterwards you know you accomplished something worthwhile.