by Amir Abdullah,
Opens April 26th
Skylight Theatre Complex
1816 ½ N. Vermont Avenue
Those who are practicing their religious beliefs in America occasionally face opposition. Some, much more than others, feel misunderstood and even frightened to express their views. The Skylight Theatre Company, known for developing impassioned new works and supporting emerging talent, takes on the controversial subject of religious freedom, and tolerance. This world premiere production of PRAY TO BALL by Amir Abdullah, opens April 26th at the 1816 ½ N. Vermont Avenue Skylight Theatre complex.
Playwright/actor Amir Abdullah believes the best way to grow tolerance and to help people better understand our quickly changing multi-ethnic communities, is to reach people through the arts. His new play does this by assimilating the subject in a story about a college student’s choice to become a practicing Muslim. The characters may be easier to relate to because of their unwavering commitment to one of American’s favorite pastimes, sports.
I caught up with this very busy and talented young writer to find out more about his new production, scheduled to make its debut in Los Angeles.
Rose: I don’t think I have seen a play that explores the challenges of choosing to convert to Islam. Is it because there aren’t any out there or that they are so seldom produced?
Amir: There seems to be a virtual absence of Islam from the American artistic narrative. “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” is the first play that comes to mind. Similar questions are raised in that show. Learning tolerance comes through exposing yourself to different cultures with an open mind, and that is my ultimate goal as a playwright. In writing complex characters, ones who experience the same life situations that many of us do, I think it allows audiences to better relate and to accept them regardless of the faith that drives these characters or the way they look.
Rose: Tell us something about what inspired you to write this play?
Amir: I am an American-born Orthodox Muslim. Wanting to express the challenges of that, in a predominantly non-Muslim society, I wrote from what I know to be true. The underlying theme for me, that I had to become comfortable with, was coming to grips with the fact that I oftentimes struggle with my faith. Through the process of writing this piece I found that it is a universal theme among all who practice a faith, to struggle with it, whether they admit it or not. The assist on getting a look inside the world of the celebrity athlete came from Cyrus McGowan, a former University of Miami (my alma mater) basketball player.
Rose: What playwrights have most influenced you?
Amir: Arthur Miller wrote about things very, very close to his heart and put a piece of himself in each play that he wrote. I so admire that, and aspire to do the same. Lorraine Hansberry, because she passed away so young and only had the chance to write one full length show and one unfinished play, reminds me that every moment of life is a gift and that we have to make the most of it. All it takes is one piece of art to have a lasting impression upon the world. Stephen Adly Guirgis is another writer who has influenced me. He seems to not hold back in his writing. August Wilson, who for so long was the strongest black voice in theatre, and he will continue to resonate for years to come.
Rose: What do you hope that audiences will take away from seeing your play?
Amir: I hope that audiences are able get a different perspective of Muslims. One that isn’t normally portrayed on TV, or in films or books. We are human, complicated imperfect beings, just like anyone else on the planet. The characters are about to be drafted by the NBA, and I would like to think that audiences will consider that there is more to a person or celebrity than what is seen in public. The celebrity culture surrounding college athletes is insane and it’s hard to distinguish the jersey number from the person off the court. We love and hate these kids without truly knowing who they are.
Rose: What is next for you?
Amir: I plan on developing this play into a film, which has been the number one bit of feedback and encouragement that I’ve gotten so far. Playwriting-wise, as a first time writer, I’m still figuring out exactly what my voice should be. I may find out that I just want to write what I’m inspired to write about, as opposed to taking a long view on my work. As a classically trained actor, I am continuing to work on projects while I’m writing.
PRAY TO BALL opens April 26th and runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm (with free post show discussions after Sunday matinees) through May 25, 2014.
The Skylight Theatre Complex is located at 1816 1/2 N. Vermont, LA, 90027. Tickets are ($30 – $34).
Reservations: 213-761-7061 or online at http://skylighttix.com