'Epic of Gilgamesh' coming to Bowker stage

Palestinian-American musician and composer Simon Shaheen and his Qantara Ensemble and actor-storyteller Margaret Olivia Wolfson present a new retelling of the ancient myth of Gilgamesh on Friday, Nov. 14 at 8 p.m. in Bowker Auditorium.

While Wolfson draws the audience into the ancient past of Iraq with her voice and stage effects, Shaheen and his Qantara Ensemble will perform on the oud (Arabian lute), violin, ney (Arabian flute), and world percussion.

Considered one of the world’s great masterpieces, the “Epic of Gilgamesh,” with its central themes of hubris and its consequences, friendship, love, grief and redemption, still resonate. Originally inscribed on stone tablets in the ancient city of Uruk—today’s Iraq—the saga tells of King Gilgamesh’s otherworldly journey in search of immortality after losing his beloved friend Enkidu. Much like Homer’s Odyssey, the story is filled with an amazing cast of characters.

Wolfson, a solo theater artist, writer, and founder of World Myth and Music, has collaborated with musicians for more than 20 years, performing in such places as Kennedy Center, the Sydney Opera House, the National Theater, Harvard, Princeton and the United Nations. Her previous music-drama collaboration with Shaheen, “Majnun Layla,” received widespread critical acclaim at its opening at the Kennedy Center and nearly two-year run. In 2007, Wolfson worked with Shaheen and the poet Adonis to present a collage of his poetry in English and Arabic with musical accompaniment. In addition to her performance work, Wolfson is an award-winning author of four books. “Marriage of the Rain Goddess” won a United Kingdom Reading Association Award for substantial contribution to literature, and her work “Mother of Beauty” was nominated for a Pushcart Editor’s Choice Award in 2007.

Shaheen, a music composer, performer and educator, has appeared in sold-out performances at Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center, Cairo’s Opera House, Theatre de la Ville in Beirut, and Belgium’s Le Palais des Arts. He has released five bestselling albums, including “Blue Flame,” which was nominated for 11 Grammys. As a recipient of the National Heritage Award, Shaheen has been honored at the White House, and as a composer, he has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, Meet the Composer, the Jerome Foundation, Continental Harmony, and Yellow Springs Institute. In addition to his recorded work, Shaheen’s theatrical repertoire includes “The Book and the Stranger,” “Possible City” and “Collateral Damage” with actress Vanessa Redgrave.

Tickets are $20, $15 general public; $15 for Five College students and youth 17 and under. Call the Fine Arts Center Box Office at 545-2511.

The program is presented by the Asian Arts and Culture Program.