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Excursion through cultures Theater troupe explores varying points of view


A collage of stories sharing personal dreams of peace in the Middle East told by an all-female cast will be presented in the searing dramatic piece, "Pushing Through," Saturday and Sunday at the third annual Columbia Festival of the Arts.

Described as a tone poem by writer/director Shauna Kanter, the play performed by the New York group Voiceworks! is a stream of consciousness odyssey using original music, movement, poetry and prose (spoken and sung) to create a non-violent dialogue between Arab and Jew.

"Actresses representing Israeli, Palestinian, Scottish and American women explore the differences and similarities between the Jew and Arab cultures," says Kanter. "The play very much does not take sides but shows, philosophically, both oppressed groups caught in a political situation beyond their control. The work emphasizes all the women's wish for a peaceful settlement."

Kanter, a voice teacher in Manhattan for 14 years, founded Voiceworks!. The group has performed in various theaters internationally, including La MaMa E.T.C. and the Village Gate in New York City; Espace de la Grace in Paris, France; Chapter Arts Central in Cardiff, Wales; and the 1990 Theatre Festival in Scotland.

"Our work cuts through barriers of language, nationality and culture," says Kanter. "We are striving to uncover the truth of what it means to be human. The melodies in Arabic, Scottish and Yiddish in this show combine with a special form of voice work known as 'pure sound' to produce a fervent, down-to-earth style of acting.

"The script is based on real-life histories," says Kanter. The cast members' diversity adds richness to their portrayals. "Odette Miro, an Israeli and American citizen; Jackie Sawiris, an Arab who grew up in Maryland's Towson area; Ama Zenya, an American of British-Kenyan heritage; and American actresses Emily King and Jan Lizza portray these women's memories, fears and hopes for a better life," says Kanter, who is Jewish.

"Pushing Through" focuses on three points of view.

The first segment deals with Jewish women's flight from Hitler's persecution to their subsequent involvement in the making of the state of Israel.

The second portion presents Palestinian women's problems in relocation and internment camps and their reactions to political violence.

Another point of view is taken by the Scottish wife of an officer in the Highland Light Infantry from Glasgow, which was headquartered in Palestine until the British Mandate ended in 1947.

"The Scottish woman's attitude doesn't make the British look too good," says Kanter. "The British promised things to both Arabs and Jews and then reneged."

Intensive research and an illuminating visit to Israel influenced Kanter's view on the Arab situation.

"You cannot go on oppressing people for centuries without paying the price," she says. "Israel is a great idea that came out of a desperate need . . . but to become imperialistic about it is the wrong road.

"Where there is fear there needs to be dialogue. That is the only way the Middle East crisis is going to be resolved.

"If more and more people see their enemies as their brothers, things will diffuse . . . not in our lifetime . . . but if we board up the windows with nails it will all blow up eventually."

"Pushing Through" will be staged at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Slayton House in Columbia. A post-performance dialogue will follow the Sunday presentation. General admission is $15; there's a 10 percent discount for senior citizens; tickets are $8 for children and students. Call 381-0545.

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