September 23, 2019

Gay Romeo Tale Set on Mideast Stage


Astute trend-spotters have noticed a new genre — “Love Across the Green Line” — in which Israeli boy meets Palestinian girl, or variations on this theme, like boy meets boy.

Four productions along these lines have been followed by the incipient courtship between Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), another confirmation that life imitates art.

In the very funny short film, “West Bank Story” by Ari Sandel, featuring an all-singing, all-dancing cast, the Israeli Romeo and the Palestinian Juliet join hands and hearts to settle a bitter rivalry between their families’ competing falafel stands.

The more somber play, “Sixteen Wounded” by Eliam Kraiem, varies the theme by having a young Palestinian radical bond with an elderly Holocaust survivor.

“Walk on Water” by Israeli director Eytan Fox weaves together various storylines (see story, page 35), but its main message is that traditional enemies can reconcile if they get to know each other as human beings, rather than stereotypes.

The latest entry is the revised play “Salam Shalom, A Tale of Passion,” currently on stage at the Whitmore Lindley Theater in North Hollywood.

It is part political debate, part generational confrontation and part gay love affair, written and produced by a multifaceted Arab American actor and dancer who goes by the single name of Saleem.

Saleem plays Nabeel, a Palestinian who arrives in Los Angeles for a year’s position at UCLA to teach Arabic.

He rents half of a small apartment, only to discover that he will share it with Yaron, an Israeli American sporting a large Star of David, whose father was killed in the Yom Kippur War.

Not surprisingly, ideological and ethnic hostilities flare up immediately, exacerbated by arguments over how to arrange the mutually shared living room.

Yet gradually, sexual attraction grows between the studly built, aggressive Yaron (Noah Jordan), who rarely misses a chance to strip off his shirt, and the older, more passive Nabeel.

Their love, encouraged by the pretty landlady (Kara Greenberg), is sealed by exchanging portions of pita and hummus, here, as in “West Bank Story,” the soul food of Arabs and Israelis alike.

The idyll is occasionally interrupted by Nashed (Yasmine Hannaney), a lithe student in Nabeel’s class, and her brother, Malik (Amro Salama), a firebrand Arab nationalist.

Yet all goes relatively well, until the lovers return to Israel to confront their families and the prevailing political situation.

Yaron’s mother (Helen Siff), long accustomed to her son’s sexual orientation, is still shocked that he has chosen an Arab lover. Even more outraged is Yaron’s brother, David (Andy McCarty), a by-the-book Israeli army officer, who hates Arabs.

On the other side of Jerusalem, Nabeel’s father (veteran Israeli actor Avner Garbi) is overcome with shame on discovering his son’s homosexuality and expels him from his home and life.

The confrontations come to a point when David arrests Nabeel and grills him as a terrorism suspect, while Yaron rushes to his lover’s defense.

It will be up to the viewer to find out whether the two men’s personal passion can survive in a land driven by larger passions.

Acting in the play varies from passable to excellent, with the most compelling performance by Garbi as the distraught Arab father.

Director Ty Donaldson keeps the action moving among constantly changing mini-scenes, and the set design by Jurney Suh makes skillful use of the 45-seat theater’s small stage.

For the hopelessly straight viewer, the play is instructive for the courtship rituals among gays, nongraphically handled, which seem as complex and awkward as among heterosexual couples.

The program notes that Saleem, when not writing or acting, also promotes two Los Angeles nightclubs, Club La Zees and 1001 Arabian Nites, both billed as “America’s first gay Middle Eastern dance clubs.”

“Salam Shalom” will continue through March 27 with performances Friday through Sunday evenings at the Whitmore Lindley Theater, 11006 Magnolia Blvd. (at Vineland Avenue) in North Hollywood. For tickets and information, call (323) 933-9214, ext. 3, or visit