Cigdem Onat and Lisa Birnbaum
in The Cry of the Reed
(© Eric Antoniou)
Cigdem Onat and Lisa Birnbaum
in The Cry of the Reed
(© Eric Antoniou)
Whether through videos of terrorists and their hostages, reports of suicide bombings, or news broadcasts on the seemingly irreconcilable battle between Islamic sects, Americans are bombarded with the painful imagery of the Middle East. In Sinan Ünel's newest work, The Cry of the Reed, at Boston's Huntington Theatre, the playwright tries to offer a different perspective by pairing up two stories. One plot follows a journalist and her colleague, abducted by extremists in Iraq; the other follows the journalist's mother, in Turkey, as she prepares to celebrate Rumi, the great Sufi poet and philosopher.

"I didn't grow up religious, but the philosophy of Rumi -- which is a humanitarian aspect of Islam about tolerance -- was always in the background," Ünel explains. "The play is about the two aspects of any religion, really -- the very personal, private aspect about love, tolerance and acceptance, and what happens when it becomes social and political, with violence and intolerance."

Ünel was inspired to start work on this piece in 2004 by something he read in The New York Times. "I'd been thinking about writing a historical play about Rumi's life when I ran into an article about a young Turkish journalist who'd been abducted in Iraq with a Canadian colleague," he says. "In the play, the two stories evolve at the same time. By putting them on stage together, there is an interaction between these two aspects of a religion. How it is in some ways essential, and in other ways so destructive."