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4,380 Nights ~ Signature Theatre ~ Women’s Voices Theater Festival

Jordan Wright
January 27, 2018 

Ahmad Kamal (Malik) in the world premiere production of 4,380 NIGHTS. Photo by C Stanley Photography.

When the Women’s Voices Theater Festival opened in early January, I found myself explaining its purpose.  Some thought the productions focused solely on women’s issues.  They don’t.  It’s merely an opportunity to focus on plays written by women.  And of the ones I’ve seen and reviewed, they approach a diversity of subjects.  So, jump right in.  The festival continues through March 14th in DC Metro area theaters.

Annalisa Dias ~ Photo Credit: Christopher Mueller

In Annalisa Dias’ powerful play 4,380 Nights, Malik Djamal Ahmad Essaid (Ahmad Kamal in a riveting performance as both Malik and El Hadj El Kaim) is being held in the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center accused of being an Al Qaeda recruiter and radical Islamist.

His rights stripped from him without charge, he lives in chains and solitary confinement with visits from Bud Abramson (Michael John Casey who later appears as The Man), a defense attorney appointed by the U. S. government.  Malik languishes in prison for twelve years without trial while his family awaits him in France.

Ahmad Kamal (Malik) and MJ Casey (Bud Abramson). Photo by C Stanley Photography.

Directed by Kathleen Ackerley, the story is told to The Man by a sylph-like narrator, The Woman, played by Lynette Rathnam in a sinuously exotic performance.  She speaks in lyrical prose echoing the history of the Carthaginians, the French, and much later the Americans who wage war against the Arabs and Berbers.

Lynette Rathnam (Woman) in the world premiere production of 4,380 NIGHTS. Photo by C Stanley Photography

The Man beseeches The Woman to tell him how the story ends, but she puts him off to relate the story that began with Cato’s words from ancient times.  No matter which side of the argument you are on, you’ll be left wondering the same thing.  Does it ever end, this centuries-old conflict of “the water, the earth, the sand”?  Whether for reasons of trade or expansionism, the battles have long been dominated by racism, ignorance and fear.  “It’s not the first time you’ve kidnapped Africans and enslaved them,” Malik reminds his American captors.

As the story toggles from ancient times to the present, we meet Malik’s grandfather, El Kaim, a former guide and translator for the French Colonel Aimable Pelisssier.  El Kaim fought on the French side, betraying his own people in the Algerian Wars, and Malik feels certain, if he is ever released to his homeland, he will be imprisoned by his own government.  Ah, the sins of the fathers.

Ahmad Kamal (Malik) and Rex Daugherty (Luke). Photo by C Stanley Photography.

Luke Harrison (Rex Daugherty who doubles as the Colonel), is a young American soldier who guards Malik.  Luke is emotionally imprisoned which causes him to descend into a kind of sadistic madness.  Think Abu Ghraib and you have some idea of the barbaric abuse he metes out to his prisoner. Abramson is sympathetic but tells Malik his detainment is awash in “papers, petitions, orders, reviews and broken international laws.”

Dias’ play is filled with expertly crafted dialogue that speaks to the deeply rooted, tangled web of Anglo Arab relations and their effect on long-term global stability.  Her indelible characters, molded in the shifting sands of time, afford clarity and perspective to the issues facing our nations today.

Highly recommended.

Through February 18th at Signature Theatre (Shirlington Village), 4200 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206.  For tickets and information call 703 820-9771 or visit online.

For more on the Women’s Voices Theater Festival visit online.

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