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New York Playhouse Shares the Sufferings of Chaldean Mothers
By Mary Esho :: Tuesday, October 13, 2009 :: 48936 Views :: Article Rating :: Sports, Art, and Entertainment

New York, USA –Basima is a Chaldean victim of an accident that kills almost her entire family, including her husband and her newborn baby; she takes off her head scarf, revealing the burns on her face.  She sits before an audience sharing her private hell and the suffering of the Iraqi people. 

On the stage of the New York Theater Workshop creators, Erik Jenson (co-writer) and Jessica Blank (writer and director) share the personal tragedies of Iraqi citizens during the war.  The play titled “Aftermath” in its final week of performance has earned impressive reviews as it depicts the private experiences of Iraqis.  Including the hardest hit and most vulnerable among Iraqi citizens, Chaldeans.   Leila Buck, plays a Chaldean dermatologist forced to treat the wounded against her will. 

The play tries to show the war’s continual effect on ordinary Iraqis widely ignored by media coverage since a new president was elected in the United States.  A voice-over during the play explains how over four million Iraqis remain refugees from their land. 

From the stage a young attractive woman softly murmurs, “Most Americans don’t know what a bomb sounds like. You don’t feel your eardrums, from the sound. We also don’t know what it smells like after the bomb has hit the target.”

“You don’t get that from TV,” the translator adds.

The show’s creators, Erik Jensen and Jessica Blank, are the same husband-and-wife team that put together “The Exonerated,” about real-life death row inmates who were innocent. Like their previous play, “Aftermath” is based on edited transcripts of interviews with the actual people being depicted; the actors tell their stories directly to the audience, mostly sitting on chairs on the stage.

The play actors include a theater director and his wife, the artist and scenic designer, who met at an arts institute in Bagdad and courted for six years; they would retreat to what colleagues called the Bermuda Triangle because it was a place where they could disappear and be alone together.

There is the translator, who learned English from American videogames and likes to tell the jokes that were going around Iraq, which were more revealing than any news report. (While there is a smattering of Arabic to lend a sense of authenticity, all the characters speak English.)

There is an imam, who as a teenager unsure of his beliefs helped become religious by reading a translation of a book demonstrating God’s existence in nature written by a group of American scientists.  

A young woman in the head scarf named Basima, a Christian who recounts childhood Christmases with particular glee – are courteous and likeable.

It is more than a third of the way through the 85-minute play before we start to learn about their experiences after the Americans came in 2003. The imam was taken, based on a misunderstanding, to Abu Ghraib; the translator was kidnapped by Iraqi police; the dermatologist was forced to treat wound after wound after wound (“You know why I chose dermatology? I hate blood.”); the theater director and his wife were targets of fatwas against artists from insurgents flooding the country from Iran and Syria (“If there is a play that I could pick that embodies Iraq now…’King Lear’ because of all the betrayals.”)

These and the other stories are told in persuasive detail with compelling performances by all nine members of the cast, who make you forget not just that they spend most of their time sitting, but that these actors are not the actual people whose stories they are telling.

The playwrights spent two weeks in Jordan last year on assignment from the New York Theater Workshop interviewing Iraqi refugees.

The audience drawn to “Aftermath” will get what it paid for – audience members will learn a little, and feel a lot closer to understanding what a mess U.S. involvement in Iraq became…and remains.   If that’s not enough, there is also a discussion session after each performance and literature in the back from groups like the International Rescue Committee

St. Thomas, MI USA

St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church
6900 Maple Rd.
West Bloomfield, MI 48322
Tel: (248) 788-2460
Fax: (248) 788-2153

Founding Pastor:
Rev. Hanna Cheikho

Current Pastor:
Rev. Frank Kalabat

Parochial Vicar:
Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Emmanuel Rayes, Retired  

Rev. Frank Kalabat

Rev. Frank Kalabat was born in 1970 in San Diego, California and entered St. Francis Seminary of San Diego, California.  The admission to the Catholic seminary made him the first born U.S. Chaldean to enter an American seminary.  In 1992, Fr. Kalabat continued his studies at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan.  In July 1995, shortly after graduation he was ordained as priest by His Excellency Bishop Ibrahim N. Ibrahim.  

Fr. Frank chose Mother of God Parish in Southfield, MI. as his first assignment serving the Chaldean community as an associate pastor for half a decade.  In 2001, Fr. Kalabat was elected to serve as Pastor of St. Tomas Parish in West Bloomfield, Michigan where he remains today.   

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim

Rev. Jirjis Abrahim was born in Telkaif, Iraq in 1942. Upon graduation Fr. Abrahim was admitted to St. Peter Chaldean Seminary in Baghdad, Iraq.  After a decade of studies and numerous degrees, Fr. Abrhim was ordained a priest in 1967.  He chose to continue ministering in Baghdad, Iraq.  There he was appointed the headmaster of the catechism at Mother of Sorrows Cathedral.  Fr. Abrahim also assisted St. Therese Church in Baghdad until 1978.  Afterward he was asked to assist St. Joseph Church in Baghdad and was appointed Parochial Vicar from 1978-1992. 

In 1992, Fr. Abrahim was called upon to assist the growing Chaldean population in Michigan.  Upon his arrival he was assigned to St. Joseph Church in Tory, Michigan.  Two years later Fr. Abrahim was asked to become the pastor of a Parish community in Windsor, Canada  where he remained the parish pastor until 2001.

Continuing demographic changes in Michigan required Fr. Abrahim to return to St. Joseph Parish in Tory as a Parochial Vicar, where he remained until 2006.  In 2006 he was elected to St. Thomas Parish as Parochial Vicar in West Bloomfield, MI. where he currently serves the Chaldean community.


Rev. Emmanuel Rayes

Rev. Emmanuel Rays was born in Araden, Iraq in 1930.  He studied at St. John Dominican Seminary and was ordained to the priesthood in 1954.  The Chaldean catholic ambassador ministered in northern Iraq from 1954-1963, in Syria and Lebanon from 1963-1980, and in the United Stated from 1980 to the present day.
Form 1980-1983, he was appointed associate pastor at Mother of God Parish in Southfield, Michigan.  From 1983-1989 he served as pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Detroit, Michigan.  During the early 1990’s he ministered to the Chaldean community in Farmington Hills and was at St. Joseph Parish in Tory where he was Parochial Vicar until 2000.

Although Fr. Rayes retired in 2001, he remains active in serving the community.  He is the author of many articles in Arabic and is the editor-in-chief of the Al Mishal and Al-Tariq magazine.  He has translated and continues to translate many books from French and English into Arabic.