Goodwill Permeates Festival of Faith


It wasn’t a typical opening night for Cornerstone Theater’s Festival of Faith, now playing at New Horizon School in Pasadena. Theatergoers had to show photo IDs before entering the venue. The box-office attendant carefully noted driver’s license numbers.

Thursday’s performance was taking place at an Islamic school. And after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, new precautions were in order--especially since many New Horizon students were taking part in some of the five plays that made up this final installment of Cornerstone’s multi-venue festival dedicated to examining the relationships among religious faiths in theatrical terms.

However, any apprehensions that lingered as the audience gathered dissipated once the performance began. The evening proved to be an island of peace and goodwill.


Gathering in an outdoor lunch area, the audience--numbering about 120--was greeted by the sight of more than 20 New Horizon children dressed as birds. Wearing feathers, beaks and colorful makeup, they twittered around the playground. The students were part of “They Simply Said Enter,” a play based on a Sufi story that tied together the evening’s other four plays.

Two other plays were also child-oriented. “The Green Parrots Speak” featured a cast of three girls as soccer players who discuss aspects of Ramadan and Muslim dress, plus two unseen adults who voice the roles of parrots in a massive tree overlooking the playground.

After “Green Parrots,” the audience broke into small discussion groups of two or three each. In one group, a self-identified “soccer mom” (who declined to be identified by name) said she thinks it is important for soccer teams to keep playing during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, despite the required fasting. But her sister, Mashael Almoammar, disagreed, saying that she stops going to the gym during Ramadan, which starts today.

“Note From the Bottom of a Well,” a monologue presented in a classroom, also focused on children, with Ferdinand Lewis playing an elementary school teacher in a Christian town. One of the character’s students is a pen pal of a Muslim child in the Middle East.

After that play, the audience assembled in an auditorium to see somewhat more adult-oriented material: a short film, “Glimpses,” whose characters also appeared in person at the sides of the screen; and “The Swami and the Sisters,” based on the Hindu Swami Vivekananda’s visit to South Pasadena a century ago. The children then returned in full force for the concluding portion of “They Simply Said Enter.”

Perhaps because it was the first of five performances, the majority of the audience consisted of parents or friends of the performers and school staff. However, at a reception after the show, kindergarten teacher Roxanne Camus said she had heard members of the school community speaking with other theatergoers about the significance of their respective faiths.


Sammy Abdelal, a parent, said he hopes the performances will “get people to know each other instead of staying behind their doors.”

Amira Al-Sarraf, director of the middle school, said the event is “a glimpse of each other--not a heavy-duty, long-term dialogue. It doesn’t serve to explain the religion. It just joins people in an understanding of faith and opens the window for us to see faith in other people’s lives.”

Added Sheila Abdulmalik, director of the lower school: “We were very excited to expand the horizons of New Horizon.”