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Award-Winning Playwright Premieres
“Tennis in Nablus”

2010 February 10
Photo by Jeff Gaines: L to R: Suehyla El-Attar, Tom Thon, Joe Knezevich

Photo by Jeff Gaines: L to R: Suehyla El-Attar, Tom Thon, Joe Knezevich

In some ways I feel sorry for Ismail Khalidi, the winner of the 2009 national Kendeda Graduate Playwriting Competition. His play “Tennis in Nablus,” now premiering at the Hertz Theatre, is so well written the young playwright may not be able to top it.

“Tennis in Nablus” recalls the beginning of the conflict between Arabs and Jews when Jewish settlement was just beginning in Palestine. Set in 1939, when Great Britain ruled Palestine and nearly a quarter of the world, the audience glimpses what life was like for the British, the conscripts who hailed from its conquered countries, and the Arabs and Jews in Palestine.

But more so than being a political play, this is a drama about humankind and the way people treat each other. Exploitation, love and hate, with sprinklings of humor, it’s all there.

What is missing, however, is great acting. In general the acting is good but not grab-you-by-the-shirt-collar take notice great.  One actor, who I’ve seen a few times on Atlanta stages, is bland. This performer goes through the exterior motions of acting and doing, but the internal piece that connects to the actor’s heart is missing.

Nonetheless, the show, which runs a little more than two hours, flows quickly. There is constant action, and every scene moves the story forward.

“Tennis in Nablus” will probably be one of many great plays by Khalidi, whose play “Truth Serum Blues,” which examines terrorism and patriotism, was produced at Pangea World Theater in Minneapolis. Born in Lebanon and reared in Chicago, Khalidi graduated last year from the MFA program in Dramatic Writing at New York University’s Tisch School for the Arts. He was awarded finalist for Williamstown’s Weissberger Award, the Goldberg Prize in Playwriting, the Quest for Peace Award from the Kennedy Center, and the second-place prize for the Kennedy Center’s Mark Twain Award.

Staged with a smart set that serves as an eloquent adobe fortress, a simple house, and an outdoor tennis court, “Tennis in Nablus” runs at the Hertz Theatre through Feb. 21.

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