When I stepped into the world famous Acme Theater for the 2nd Annual Middle Eastern Comedy Festival, I was feeling the lull of another long day. However, laughter was the cure. When in doubt, laugh it out. Cracking up can also help you slim down, in an attempt to ‘laugh your abs off’. Studies show that laughing 100 times can be the equivalent to riding a bike for 10 minutes. It can also reduce stress, fight infections, and bring about positivity with the release of endorphins. The Middle Eastern Comedy Festival’s ‘Wizard of Oz-lamabad…and Other Fine Farces’ took me on a journey through their wonderful world of acute acumen.
The shows’ creators and producers, Ronnie Khalil and Ryan P. Shrime began with a quick introduction, however the program's Playbill seized my attention. A rhetorical question piqued my interest; “An Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero is more offensive than Burlington Coat Factory and some strip clubs?” This argument was followed by other words of wisdom, “…regardless of race, color (or really, any particular shade of brown) or religion, comedy is more powerful than politics, laughter more powerful than distrust.” Which just goes to show you why Jonah Hill might court more ladies than Robert Pattison. And finally, they promised everyone in the audience a starring role on Mad Men next season. Well, gentlemen please talk to my agent, but make sure you tell January Jones, that I have a thing for Dairy Queen girls in polyester.
The sketches themselves were bookended by the main attraction, ‘Wizard of Oz-lamabad’, in which a young Dorothy, dressed in drag, was trying to find her way home. This extremely well written sketch was woven nicely with many Middle Eastern references, such as: Follow the Arabic Road, Wicked Witch of Middle East, and the wicked witch melting in an abundance of oil. The crowd snickered and clapped, as BP reps came out to clean up the spill, but decided otherwise. A few Oz performances worth noting are Charles Marina as a quirky crazed Monkeydinejad, Meena Dimian as the precociously sly Scarecrow, Dan Alemshah as the flamboyantly gay Tou Tou, and Max Siam as the wounded teddy bear of a Lion.
'Wizard of Oz-lamabad' Sketch
'The Evil Eye' sketch opened the show with a series of scenarios, where Muslim misfortune infected everyone, luckily an Irish Four Leaf Clover saved the day. 'Blind Date' showcased potential pitfalls of dating on Middle E-Harmony with a brilliantly balanced display of schizophrenia by Ursula Taherian on her unsuspecting victim, Ronnie Kahlil. 'Pharaoh' dissected origins of many Eqyptian tales in a classically executed and satire-laced battle of one upmanship by Ryan P. Shrime and Tamara Dhia. However, every actor who stepped on stage brought his or her own diverse background and subtle nuances to contribute towards the multitude of laughs.
'The Evil Eye' Sketch
Overall, this was a valuable learning experience that enlightened many to a new culture, but also embraced the differences amongst us through a celebration of laughter. It was a job well done, because they not only cured a case of the Mondays, but many bigger cases of misconception. We look forward to The Middle East Comedy Festival for many years to come. -Stephen Seidel, RenegadeReporting.com