A Return To Haifa: A World Premiere by a Local Playwright

image001Evanston’s Next Theatre Company, continues its 29th season with the World Premiere of Return to Haifa by Evanston-based playwright M.E.H. Lewis beginning February 4 at Evanston’s Noyes Cultural Arts Center. The play was inspired by the 1968 Palestinian novella by Ghassan Kanafani. Next’s new Artistic Director Jason Southerland directs the production.

Return to Haifa tells the story of Sarah and Jakob, a young Jewish couple newly arrived in Haifa following liberation from Auschwitz and the long journey to Palestine. Simultaneously we meet Safiyeh and Ishmail, recently married and awaiting the birth of their first child (Khaldun) while settling into their new home in Haifa. But the lives of all four are soon changed forever as the Battle for Haifa in April 1948 forces Safiyeh and Ishmail to flee to Ramallah and, through a cruel twist of fate, leave their newborn child behind to face certain doom. Sarah and Jakob are given the house in Haifa and the baby to raise as they embark on a new life of their own. Nearly 20 years later as Ramallah becomes part of the Occupied Territories and the borders to Israel are once again opened, Safiyeh and Ishmail return to Haifa driven by a haunting curiosity and a need for closure. Once there however, they are faced with a realization more agonizing than the death of their son all those years before…his survival. Return to Haifa is an intensely intimate story about how we draw the lines of home, family and identity across time and politics.

I’m thrilled that I am able to bring this moving and complex story to life and to share it with audiences as our first World Premiere during my stewardship of Next,” says Southerland. “It’s an ideal first in my mind in that although the story is poignantly set against the backdrop of the birth of the Jewish state, the parabolic metaphors of displacement, identity, family, and loss will assuredly resonate with Chicagoland audiences and beyond.”

The production is a first for Next in that it pairs a local playwright along with a resident director to produce a show for the home stage at Evanston’s Noyes Arts Center.

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