LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. — An original stage production, Benedictus, created by an international team of professionals, will premiere at Siena College on April 20, followed by professional productions this autumn at the Golden Thread Theatre in San Francisco, Calif.
The creators are from Iran, Israel and the United States. Given the impossibility of meeting in Iran and the complexities of meeting in Israel, these artists are working in the U.S. to create collaborative theatre in the midst of escalating political conflict, particularly around Iran’s potential nuclear ambitions.
Siena College’s Stage III theatre group is providing the primarily student-acted production with cast and crew members, and is gaining a first-hand experience of the college’s innovative commitment to the potential of the arts for peace building. Included in the cast is Gary Maciag, a Siena professor.
Benedictus imagines two childhood friends, born in the same town in Iran. One studies Islamic law and philosophy, entering the clergy and eventually rising to leadership in the new Islamic Republic. The other, Jewish, emigrates with his family to Israel and eventually becomes a leading arms dealer.
In the center of the play, these childhood friends, irrevocably connected but long estranged, agree to a secret meeting in a designated Benedictine monastery in Rome.
The central premise of Benedictus was inspired by an actual event. In 2005, President Mohammad Khatami of Iran and President Moshe Katsav of Israel were seated alphabetically for the funeral of Pope John Paul II. Although the two countries had broken off diplomatic relations in 1979 with the fall of the Shah and the installation of the revolutionary government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the two presidents apparently shook hands and exchanged a few words in Farsi, since they both had been born some 50 years earlier in the Iranian province of Yazd.
The story of the supposed handshake was later widely published in the Israeli and American press, but adamantly denied in the Iranian press. A Syrian government official claimed to have witnessed a handshake between the two men, but stated that it had no meaning, since it was a human gesture but of no political importance.
The work of Benedictus began in the summer of 2005 as the Iran/Israel/United States Project, with a one-week residency at Siena. Collaboration has continued over the past 18 months.
Premiere performance dates for Benedictus are:
* April 20, 21 and 26 to 28 at 8 p.m.
* April 22 at 2 p.m.