Dorset invites its audience into the creative processBy Jim LoweProvided Photo
Playwright Theresa Rebeck
DORSET — In Theresa Rebeck’s drama-in-progress “Zealot,” the term refers to an Arab woman who is challenging traditional Islam’s subjugation of women. But before this dark drama is over, zealot applies to the other main characters — a British consul and an American diplomat.
Dorset Theatre Festival opened its 2014 season Thursday at Dorset Playhouse with a staged reading of the renowned playwright’s latest effort that benefited from a particularly able and sensitive cast.
This was first of Dorset’s three new play readings this summer, a significant part of the summer professional theater company’s development of new theater. Dorset’s readings, like this one, are well prepared and rehearsed by expert directors and cast.
It also drew an unusual nearly full house — perhaps in deference to Rebeck, the theater’s resident playwright who has long summered in Dorset, or to film and TV star Alfre Woodard, one of the readers.
“Zealot” is set in the British consulate in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The time is the Islamic holy celebration of Hajj, which draws Muslims from around the world.
Much to the chagrin of the British consul Edgar, he finds in his office Ann, an American undersecretary of state and an African-American. She warns of Internet chatter about a possible demonstration by Muslim women.
Edgar’s dislike for inconvenience grows into a nightmare when, following the news of a horrific incident at the mosque, a participant arrives at the consulate looking for sanctuary. In fact, Marina, a young and passionate Muslim woman, is seeking asylum in the United States from the undersecretary.
Marina is a witness to the incident at the mosque — and the Saudis want her badly.
What ensues is a testy debate over diplomacy, responsibility, women’s rights and survival. Rather than the conversation deepening understanding, it reduces its participants to their most basic — in fact, each one a zealot in their own right.
Rebeck’s “Zealot” morphs from a carefree near-comedy to a taut drama as it confronts the reality of today’s politics.
Thursday’s reading, directed and narrated (reading the script’s stage instructions) by John Doyle — despite no staging — drove the play’s compelling message home.
Reg Rogers gave Edgar a tired British wittiness that covered a will of steel, while Woodard delivered Ann’s passion and earnestness, hiding her insecurity as a female diplomat among powerful men.
Dina Shihabi gave Marina a more pure earnestness, covering her practical canniness. Demosthenes as the outraged Mecca minister, and Everett Irving as the consulate servant Yousef, both felt authentic.
Dorset is offering its community a tremendous opportunity in opening the creative process to the public.
Dorset Theatre Festival
Dorset Theatre Festival’s remaining New Play Readings are Nicole Burdette’s “Utterly Changed” July 14, and Lucy Thurber and Matt Gould’s musical “Dillingham City” Aug. 19, both at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15. The regular season opens with John Logan’s “Red” June 18-July 6. For tickets or information, call 867-2223, or go online to www.dorsettheatrefestival.org.
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