Friday, March 20, 2015

Middle Eastern fairy tale to be staged at Cuyamaca College

One of the costumes to be
used in "Beyond the Impossible"
The production of “Beyond the Impossible,” coming to Cuyamaca College April 8, will transform the Performing Arts Theater stage into a fairy tale setting replete with a royal kingdom, an evil witch and a brave hero who saves the day – along with the life of a beautiful princess.

During the tale of good versus evil, the audience will be treated to an extravaganza of hand-sewn traditional costumes, along with the music and dance of past eras of the Middle and Far East. Recorded music and an English narration of Arabic instructor Aklas Sheai’s script will accompany the 50 performers, all students or counseling office staff, during the production’s three scenes. Theatergoers can also sample food from a local Middle Eastern eatery during the first half hour of the 12:30-2 p.m. event. The event is free and open to the public.

Sheai is coordinating the production, and as with last year’s staging of a costume and music showcase, “A Journey to the Sun,” she spent hours sewing the elaborately embroidered costumes. Also coordinating the event are Patricia Santana, chair of the college’s World Languages Department; Raad Jerjis, associate professor and counselor; and Asma Yassi, a counselor at the college and Sheai’s daughter.

Set around 700 A.D. in a region in southern Spain with Arabic influences known today as Andalusia, Sheai’s production is a series of scenes representing battles between good and evil.

An evil witch has cast a dark spell over the kingdom that can only be broken by delivering the nearly impossible: water from an oasis in Arabian Sahara, the golden crown of Cleopatra, sweet dates from the palm trees of Basra, the sword of a great Arabian fighter, and a silk sari from India – all in just five days. Only one man volunteers – a plucky soul named Zainu-Diin who undertakes a treacherous journey to bring hope back to his people.

As a Chaldean refugee who arrived in the United States with her husband and daughter in 2005, Sheai said “Beyond the Impossible” is a story of hope that carries the message to remain resolute in the face of life’s travails. It is symbolic, she said, of the mass exodus from war-torn Iraq of refugees to the United States to places like San Diego’s East County, home to one of the largest Chaldean populations outside of the Middle East.

“I am trying to bring a message that there is always hope because there are so many refugees dealing with adverse situations,” said Sheai, who began teaching at Cuyamaca College in 2008 and last year won an Outstanding Faculty Award.

Jerjis, who also coordinated last year’s production, explains further: “The moral to the story is to always persevere. Some immigrants may feel a sense of hopelessness and despair. With this production, Aklas is trying to ignite the candle of hope.”

Jerjis, himself an Iraqi-born Chaldean who came to San Diego in 1982, praises the college administration for its support of Middle Eastern cultural events, saying they are one way to increase an understanding of Chaldean refugees and immigrants.

Cuyamaca College President Mark Zacovic said the college is rich with diversity and appreciates the countless hours of hard work contributed by people like Sheai.

“This is clearly a labor of love for Aklas,” he said. “Each year the community benefits from her generosity and commitment by gaining a greater empathy for the many immigrants who come to our country to search for a better life. Cuyamaca College is proud to provide an avenue for their success.”