A group of Syrians stage a play this week at Lincoln Center in New York to show how the ongoing war affects the lives of ordinary people in Syria.

Actors Hanan Chkir (L) and Nanda Mohammad (R) perform during a dress rehearsal for 'While I was Waiting' as part of Lincoln Center Festival at Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College on July 19, 2017 in New York City.
Actors Hanan Chkir (L) and Nanda Mohammad (R) perform during a dress rehearsal for 'While I was Waiting' as part of Lincoln Center Festival at Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College on July 19, 2017 in New York City.

Six Syrian actors battled a fraught US visa process to tread the boards in New York this week, seeking to impress on American theatregoers the human cost of a war raging halfway round the world.

The US premiere of "While I Was Waiting" won a standing ovation from New Yorkers moved on Wednesday by the realisation that those trapped by the war are ordinary people just like them.

"Anyone in New York is going to understand the characters immediately," said Sam Sacks, a 37-year-old writer who was at the opening night at the annual Lincoln Center Festival.

"They seem like people who could be our neighbours here."

Plight of Syrians

The play tells the story of Taim, a young filmmaker left in a coma after being beaten at a Damascus checkpoint, and how his mother, sister, girlfriend and other friends react to his plight.

As the characters grapple with past hurts and brutal realities, the drama spotlights how their middle-class lives have been upended by the now six-year conflict that has killed more than 320,000 people.

The Arabic-language play, with English subtitles, seeks to dive behind grisly media headlines about gas attacks, beheadings, and a repressive regime to show a more human perspective.

"It just confirmed that we're all humans and we're in this boat together. It doesn't seem to have a resolution, I hope it will soon," said Henrietta Gwaltney, a New York social worker.

From left to Right) Actors Reham Kassar, Nanda Mohammad, Hanan Chkir perform during a dress rehearsal for 'While I was Waiting' as part of Lincoln Center Festival at Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College on July 19, 2017 in New York City. (AFP)
From left to Right) Actors Reham Kassar, Nanda Mohammad, Hanan Chkir perform during a dress rehearsal for 'While I was Waiting' as part of Lincoln Center Festival at Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College on July 19, 2017 in New York City. (AFP)

Trump's travel ban

The four-night production brings six actors as well as additional Syrian crew members to New York. Ultimately, only one technical member of the group was denied a US visa.

Written by playwright Mohammad al Attar, the play premiered in Brussels last year and has already toured Europe and Japan. Its US run lasts until Saturday.

Festival director Nigel Redden believed the tale would resonate with New York theatregoers, not least in a city hostile to the policies of President Donald Trump.

"This year it seemed particularly right to look at current events," he said. "We need to see the human side of what is going on in Syria."

The Lincoln Center initiated the visa applications around the time Trump announced his first travel ban on visa-holders from Syria and six other Muslim majority countries.

Director Omar Abusaada, who lives in Damascus and visited the United States in 2010, called it "the most hard process for a visa, ever."

But if he worries that US audiences have a distorted impression of Syria, twisted by a media too focused on the Syrian Regime leader Bashar al Assad and Daesh, he worries even more that Syrians at home are losing hope that art can make a difference.

"They don't hope that much from the world outside," he said.

"I still really believe that's important, but I think for the majority of Syrians who are inside Syria, this is not important anymore.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies