Theatre Nova Debuts “Arabic to English” in Ann Arbor

Fedor Kinaya and Zeyy Fawaz in “Arabic to English” by David Wells, directed by Sarab Kamoo at Theatre NOVA. Photograph by Sean Carter Photography.

Theatre Nova’s first showing of the play “Arabic to English” was meant to be on March 20, 2020. Three years later, with a completely new cast, “Arabic to English” is finally debuting for the first time ever in Ann Arbor.

The production focuses on topics and issues including Arab-American experiences under the Trump Administration, deportation and exploration of self-identity. 

“There is this whole atmosphere of trying to bring [underrepresented and marginalized communities] to the forefront […] in every aspect, let alone the arts, writing, acting and performing,” actress Zeyy Fawaz said. “These stories are essential because they help the larger community gain a little perspective and understanding. I think that is really needed nowadays, to find commonalities instead of differences.”

For many of the cast members, significant parts of their characters directly resonate with themselves. Both Fawaz, playing the role of Amina, and Fedor Kinaya, in the role of Faheem, feel that they are near-mirror images of their characters. 

“I’ve become more comfortable and relaxed into Faheem and into the performances,” Kinaya said. “Whether he’s getting angry, passionate, or sad remembering his past [and] what happened to his father, I have definitely had a lot of fun with putting myself into it. [Asking] what would I do, how would I react in this moment, and increase the energy in those moments in whatever direction they go.”

“Arabic to English” is directed by Sarab Kamoo, representing Kamoo’s first solo directing endeavor. Kamoo has worked as an actress in many different mediums for over 26 years.

She deeply related to the story after having her brother-in-law face deportation under the Trump Administration’s Muslim travel ban in 2017. 

“Many of the events in the play, a lot of the things they reference, in terms of the judge, the ACLU, putting a stop to the deportations, all of that, I was present in the courtroom [and] at the protests,” Kamoo said. “It was kind of weird to read the script and be like, ‘Wow, that’s exactly what happened and I was right there.’ So it was very personal to me and I was so proud to be able to tell that story.”

The production has had overwhelmingly positive feedback from members of the community. “Arabic to English” will be running from June 2 through June 25, with a total of 14 shows. 

“[‘Arabic to English’ is] something that you connect with on so many different levels as a human, you don’t need to be Arab-American to connect with this play,” Fawaz said. “You can see yourself in different characters, but also you can open your mind to a different story, perspective, and culture, that you are not always so fortunate to have a little window into, so it does build bridges.” 

After some of their performances, Kinaya has been invited to read for other roles while Fawaz noted that screenwriters and playwrights have relayed the vacancy there is for stories like “Arabic to English.”

“We are so fortunate to have such a beautiful, supportive community in the Detroit-Ann Arbor area,” Fawaz said. “I want to thank every single person that came out and supported the show, every single person that had reached out on social media, reached out via email, asked for contact information and gave us these beautiful and kind words. It never gets old and I’m always touched by every single person.”

Learn more about Theatre Nova via their website, and buy tickets to “Arabic to English” here.

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