‘Sixteen Wounded’ explores Mideast conflict

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By Sara Miller

For as long as we can remember, the news has been filled with stories of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The ongoing strife in this tiny region of the world dominates the global airwaves. How much do we really know about the people born into these circumstances — the individuals whose lives are defined by the geography of their birth? The Evergreen Players takes on these questions in the regional premiere of “Sixteen Wounded,” which opened March 6 at Center/Stage Theater.

“Sixteen Wounded” was written by Eliam Kraiem, a playwright who studied at CalArts and won the Fourth Freedom Playwriting Award along with a grant from the Kennedy Center. Kraiem, whose father is from Israel, wanted to put a human face on the tensions he had spent most of his life hearing about.

“Sixteen Wounded” tells the story of a Jewish Holocaust survivor and a Palestinian exile who meet by chance. The elder, Hans, owns a bakery in Amsterdam. He takes Mahmoud, a much younger man, under his wing after he is injured in a violent attack in front of the bakery. An unlikely friendship blooms in spite of the men’s cultural differences and their mysterious pasts.

Len Matheo, the show’s director, obtained the script after the show ran on Broadway in 2004. Matheo’s wife, Lisa DeCaro, was a childhood friend of Kraiem. Matheo and DeCaro took part in an actor’s reading of the show in 1996, when the script was in its infancy.

“I knew the show would be a great one for the Players,” says Matheo. “We’ve really been pushing the boundaries, wanting to bring the acting and production levels of the Players up to those of other professional theaters in the area. ‘Sixteen Wounded’ was just the type of show that could help us with that.”

Matheo was committed to creating a culturally accurate and sensitive show. He tracked down Wadi Muhaisen, a trial lawyer in Denver and a native Palestinian, to consult on the cultural nuances. As their relationship developed, Matheo realized that Muhaisen would be perfect for the lead role of Mahmoud.

“This is Muhaisen’s acting debut, but he’s is a natural. I’ve spent time coaching him, and not a single person would think that he has never acted. He’s going to be brilliant,” says Matheo.

Playing opposite Muhaisen is Richard Beall, a longtime Denver radio personality with an impressive list of acting credits. The show’s other characters include Nora (Meridith Crosley), a Dutch dancer who falls in love with Mahmoud, and Sonya (Sherrie Scott), a Russian prostitute who offers Hans comfort and companionship in his lonely world. David Blumenstock plays Ashraf, Mahmoud’s brother, who plays a major role in the show’s stunning denouement.

With years of history setting the stage for this story, it would be easy to create characters that are stereotypical representations of their homelands. Kraiem, however, has created unique people, even offering a sympathetic portrayal of the militant Mahmoud. The writing and acting will leave the audience questioning their own ideas and prejudices.

To help examine some of the timely questions that “Sixteen Wounded” raises, Eliam Kraiem will conduct an audience talk-back on opening night. For more details, visit www.evergreenplayers.org.

The Evergreen Players present the regional premiere of

“Sixteen Wounded,” March 6 through April 5

Friday and Saturday performances at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday performances at 2 p.m. at Center/Stage, 27608 Fireweed Drive, Evergreen

Admission: adult, $18; seniors (60-plus) and students, $14; youth (12 and under), $8. Discounts are available for groups.

Call 303-674-4934 for reservations, or visit www.evergreenplayers.org.