Review: Tales of a City by the Sea (Canadian Friends of Sabeel)

Play tackles the precarity and uncertainty of life and love in Gaza

Tales of a City by the Sea (Canadian Friends of Sabeel) is a play about how life can exist in the midst of death, and how ordinary human activity goes on in the midst of great destruction. It is also the story of two extremely ill- fated lovers, Rami and Joumana, set in the world’s largest open air prison, Gaza.

Rami (Anas Hassan) is an American-born Palestinian doctor who returns to Gaza on one of the first Free Gaza boats in 2008. He and Joumana (Saja Kilani) fall in love. She asks him to stay, and he promises he will wind up his affairs in Texas and return to be with her. However, because Gaza is under siege, his return is highly unlikely.  Given the severe bombing of the Gaza strip, his finding Joumana alive, should he return, is also not guaranteed.

The characters are constantly grappling with complex issues. For one thing, how deep do Rami’s roots run? He broke through the siege of Gaza in one of the most volatile places in the world, but would not stay there. How is it possible to go on living when you have no control over any aspect of your life, including when the electricity or water will come back on?

How is it possible for a person to raise a family in Gaza when, as Rami says, “the sky rains down fire”? Except that with the bombs falling, none of the character have much time to sit and ponder the finer details. As one character (Ali, played by Maher Sinno) says, “this is not a land of grey zones.”

The set is grounded by a fig tree, one of the oldest species of the region with roots that run deep. This particular tree is made of rubble and stone to symbolize the Palestinians’ continued existence despite the horrors which they endure.

This is not a light piece of theatre. The organization presenting it – Canadian Friend of Sabeel – is financed by a church that works to raise awareness regarding atrocities being committed in Palestine. It is a play with a message and purpose. But this is a life-affirming play, despite how heavy it is.

The cast consists mostly young persons who are either undergraduates or recent graduates.  While they show a lot of potential they just don’t have the experience they need to find their footing in such a complex piece. As a result, the acting can feel a bit wooden or over the top at times. But this was opening night, and they may relax into the roles as time passes. And even if they don’t, they are clearly passionate about the piece, and Samah Sabawi’s script shines through. I really don’t feel it should be a deterrent from seeing the piece.

The play is punctuated with traditional songs and music that almost serves as a Greek chorus, except that there is nothing detached or distant about this music, and the audience do join in. This is a play about how life always goes on, and what is more life affirming than music and dancing?

Like the characters themselves who live with with great uncertainty, and with the knowledge of how tenuous life is, the play offers us no answers or closure. There is only the moment.


  • Tales of a City by the Sea runs from December 7 – 15 at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Ave.)
  • Shows run from Tuesday to Sunday and start at 7.30pm with an added 2.00pm matinee on Sundays.
  • Tickets cost $20-30 for general admissions, and $15-25 for students and seniors.

Photo of Maher Sinno, May Tartoussy, Saja Kilani, Nawal Hamdan, Basel Daoud by Malak Abul Ata.