shelby

HAMTRAMCK, Mich. – The inadvertent family—unrelated people who choose to be with each other, often at a bar—has long been a go-to situation for theater and TV; think “The Iceman Cometh” or “Cheers.” Margaret Edwartowski’s play Hamtown Races at Hamtramck’s Planet Ant Theatre is such a tale of family-where-you-find-it and the results are more than satisfying.
One reason is the play’s specificity. Even without its title, the play’s setting is unmistakably Hamtramck, that funky, gritty and diverse little city surrounded by Detroit. In the neighborhood diner where all the onstage action takes place you’ll find proprietor Noor, an immigrant from Lebanon; her thoroughly Americanized college student daughter, Lolia; diner fixtures and bickering buddies Jimmy, who is African American, and Dobry, who is Polish; and finally Matt, young proprietor of the nearby T-shirt shop that caters to the town’s influx of millennials.
These are people who probably wouldn’t have voted for the current president-elect, but that’s not an issue here. Hamtown Races was first performed in 2012 and is back, more or less by popular demand, in a new production.
There is one other character, a late arrival; we’ll get to him…later.
Edwartowski provides several storylines but characters are the engine that drives her play, none more forcefully than the quarrelsome, inseparable duo of Jimmy (Falah Cannon) and Dobry (Stephen Craig Blackwell). Their dialogue is snappy, funny and very informative about Hamtramck and its ethnic divisions. Jimmy relates to profanity as if it’s a component of the air he breathes: oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, the n-word and the mother-word. He uses “dumbass” as a term of endearment.
Cannon musters all of Jimmy’s bluster in the cause of a man with a grudge against the word, railing against the system (he’s fighting to receive disability) and the “A-rabs” and other denizens of Hamtramck (including African Americans).
Blackwell, with a pitch-perfect accent, is Jimmy’s good-natured foil, adversary and occasional co-conspirator. He supposedly works in his brother’s unspecified business, and Jimmy doesn’t work at all, but neither man really has a life outside the café.
Noor (Maya Gangadharan) and daughter Lolia (Shelby Marie Schroeder) persuasively convey the conflict typical of a protective old-country mother and more modern offspring. One source of conflict: the mutual attraction between Lolia and Matt, the T-shirt guy (Andy Alan Reid).
The one subject they skirt is the absence of the husband and father who has stayed behind in Lebanon all these 11 years, but that subject becomes unavoidable when the man (Samer Ajluni) arrives without prior notice, suitcase in hand.
I could give away the plot (I won’t) and it wouldn’t diminish anyone’s enjoyment of Hamtown Races. Persuasively acted, and emphatically directed by Amanda Grace Ewing, it’s a play of flavors, pungent as the varied cuisines of Hamtown itself.

Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars. – Kahlil Gibran

In many ways, Noor, the strong Arab woman at the center of this story, reminds me of my Sito (Arabic for grandmother), who passed away in August of this year – a week after I signed on to direct Hamtown Races. I think of Noor as a lighthouse – providing guidance, safety, and strength for everyone who encounters her. My Sito was the same way. She was at every concert, performance, holiday, and school ceremony my siblings, cousins, and I ever had. She cheered us on and, as an aspiring singer in her youth, always encouraged me to follow my heart toward the theatre. After Sito’s death, meeting Noor was a gift. This show gave me an opportunity to do something productive with my grief. Hamtown Races became a way to channel my family and my experiences as an Arab-American, a way to honor my grandmother and her legacy. At the heart of this play is a family fighting to stay together, a family fighting to mend their scars, a family fighting for survival. This show came at a perfect time for me.

Before we opened, a woman I looked up to all my life was defeated by racism, hate, frustration, and fear. In the days following the election, Hamtown Races once again provided an outlet for my pain and grief. Theatre-maker Augusto Boal called the theatre a rehearsal for revolution. Each day at rehearsal I felt that I was making a productive piece of the resistance. Inside Margaret’s gorgeous and hilarious words, the cast and I were able to do something hopeful with our anxiety, exasperation, and heartache. We took this examination of Hamtramck, the world in two square miles, and rehearsed mending our wounds, gathering our families, rebelling against the systems of oppression that compel us to criticize each other. This show came at the perfect time for us.

It is my hope that this show might help form a community of theatre-makers and theatergoers who can come together as the ‘massive characters’ needed to begin to effect the positive change needed in our larger story.

15123024_10154910055718394_603844468174843861_o

Hamtown Races Show Dates: 
November 23, 25, 26, 29, 30 | December 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17 | 8pm
Sunday December 4 at 2pm & Sunday December 11 at 6pm
Tickets – $20.00*
*Price includes a $1 per ticket online processing fee. Tickets are non-refundable.
Planet Ant Theatre  |  2357 Caniff Ave., Hamtramck, MI 48212  |  313-365-4948

hamtown

It’s that time! Posters are out, the facebook event is created, it’s happening! In this post-election environment, it has been feeling so productive to come to rehearsals and create a show about race and culture that is inclusive, representative, and seriously funny. I think a lot of people are needing a good laugh right now.

Come out and see the show!

Show Dates: 
November 23, 25, 26, 29, 30 | December 2, 3, 9, 10, 16, 17 | 8pm
Sunday December 4 at 2pm & Sunday December 11 at 6pm
Tickets – $20.00*
*Price includes a $1 per ticket online processing fee. Tickets are non-refundable.
Planet Ant Theatre  |  2357 Caniff Ave., Hamtramck, MI 48212  |  313-365-4948

I am excited to announce that I am directing “Hamtown Races” at Planet Ant Theatre this season. The show runs from November 23rd – December 27th.

From the Planet Ant website, “Planet Ant brings back an encore presentation of Margaret Edwartowski’s Wilde Award-winning play, Hamtown Races. Originally staged in Fall 2012, the play is set inside the Al Ameer Cafe, a family business belonging to Lebanese immigrants, which hosts a colorful and diverse collection of characters, each representative of the varied and shifting cultures in Hamtramck.”

As an Arab-American, whose great-grandparents immigrated from Lebanon, I am thrilled to be directing this show! I’m excited to explore this part of my family history and identity through this show – and further, I’m excited to explore race in Metro Detroit, and the history and changing culture of Hamtramck.

More to come!