Theater is one of the most wonderful forms of storytelling we have. We recently had the opportunity to see a showing of The Strangest, which centers around the live performance tradition of Arabic storytelling. The Fourth Street Theatre was completely transformed into a traditional Arab storytelling café, complete with plush pillows, draped tapestries and even Turkish coffee.
The scene was set, but we didn’t know what we were getting into. I had little knowledge of the French colonization of Algeria, but learned about the cultural tensions that arose during this time. The play, inspired by Albert Camus’ novel, The Stranger, takes place in the time period leading up to the French Algiers revolution, as told through the aforementioned Arab storytelling. Playwright Betty Shamieh was intrigued by these Middle Eastern storytelling cafés, “where a person could grab a cup of joe and listen to the live performances of the best storytellers in that community retelling fables and myths from The Arabian Nights,” she said.
The story follows three brothers, each of whom are vying for the affection of the same, seductress woman. The rivalry between the three ends when, at the end, one is killed by a Frenchman. The story is not for the faint of heart, which is not only set in a time strife with political and cultural turmoil, but is strewn with violence, sexual assault, and the everyday struggles of the lower class and between families.
Playing through April 1st and produced by Semitic Root, The Strangest is a hard-hitting show that opens up New Yorkers to a different world than they’re used to.
*All images via Hunter Canning Photography
Twisted Talk: Are you familiar with French Algiers? Have you ever experienced Arabic storytelling? Discuss below!