talked about our different customs, sang nationality songs, danced our dances. They were beautiful times and we made many friends; even when we moved away from the Institute many of us remembered the help that Margaret Fergusson gave us. We learned there and we grew."
Other charter and early members of the League were: Somia George Abookire, Linda Abraham, Martha Abraham, Linda Amor Asher, Sophie Zlaket Augustine, Anne Shibley Bird, Ann Zlaket Ganim, Elizabeth Jacobs Ganim, Emily Joseph Ganim, Sally Abraham George, Adelle Aftoora Hamra, Elizabeth George Hatton, Louise Hatton, Josephine Charley Kassouf, Carolyn Kaim Koury, Mathilda Thomas Mady, Victoria Shalala Otto, Nellie Sabath, Marie Assef Samia, Edna Smith Shalala, Ida and Josephine Shalala, Edna Beshara Zarzour, and Nora Ganim Zarzour.
Many of the founders and early members continue to direct their energies toward the welfare of the present day organization.
As the group expanded and its membership increased it became necessary to move club activities from the International Institute to the Sheraton Cleveland Hotel. When the Sheraton was closed for renovation in 1977, the Women's League took temporary quarters in the Plaza Hotel.
The Capricornian Club which had been organized for younger sisters did not continue long, since those members joined the League itself as soon as age permitted, and newer generations became involved in coed teen clubs at their own churches.
The Arab Arts in Cleveland
On January 12, 1930, two stories appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer which recorded a highlight in the history of the Syrian-Lebanese in Cleveland.
The first on page nine was headed, "Syrian Actors Tonight Open in P.D.'s 'Theater of Nations.'"
Something different in the theater is in store for Clevelanders tonight. For the first time anywhere the dramatic aspirations of different national groups have been focused in a single, central small theater for a cycle of plays and ambitious musical productions.
The theatricals of these groups are being transplanted from obscure halls in widely scattered parts of the city to the setting of a model play house. The Little Theater of Public Hall, completed two years ago with the idea that it would be a workshop of the theater for Cleveland's community players. The Plain Dealer Theater of the Nations tonight presents its opening production, "The Robbers," Schiller's dramatic narrative, the work of Cleveland Syrians under the auspices of the Syrian American Club.
The play has been given before by the Syrian players, coached by Chick Shantiry and Dr. H. B. Khuri, who have given creditable presentations of Shakesperean plays and Syrian classics as well.
It is given in Arabic, native tongue of the Syrian people. Each group in the Plain Dealer Theater of the Nations will keep to its own language in following through the drama series, for which more than a score of productions are now scheduled ahead . . . "The Robbers," and the presentation to follow will be staged under the direction of K. Elmo Lowe, assistant director and Max Eisenstat, technical director, who are bringing to the production the best developments of their work at the Play House.
But against the background of scenic and lighting effects provided by Eisenstat and Lowe, the play itself will be the native theater of the Syrians. Every encouragement has been given to bring this atmosphere into the fine setting of the Little Theater . . . the story of the play is the romantic one of the disinherited son of the old noble. Count von Maxmillian, and his robber band in the forest of Bohemia. The love interest is there in the attachment of Amelia von Edelreich, niece of the Count, for the dashing robber chieftain and the jealousy of the other son, Francis.
The brigands rob in the Robin Hood fashion, cutting the purses of the rich to help the needy, until the count dies and their leader wants to go back to the title and estates. Amelia and the Robber are united in tragic death when he refuses to abandon his band.
Julius C. Dubin is director of the Theater of the Nations. Associated with him are Beatrice F. Kalish and Hannah B. Goodman.
The story was accompanied by a sketch of the actors in 19th century European clothing.
On page 10 of the same issue, William F. McDermott, the drama critic wrote:
I think the nature of this initial drama is sufficient justification for one of the prime ideas motivating the entire project, which was that this succession of plays would give Clevelanders in general a new understanding of the richness and vigor of the culture of the different alien groups which reside in our midst and of which most of us know so little.
I must confess that in that choice (Schiller's play), I learned more about contemporary Syria and Syrians than I had found out in my previous lifetime. Schiller is a great German poet, second only to Goethe, and "The Robbers" is one of the world's great masterpieces of dramatic literature ... In fifteen years or so of writing about the theater I have never been called upon to review this drama in an American play house. I think it strange and worthy of remark that the first opportunity I have had to do so should be offered by a group of Cleveland Syrians. The play will be given of course, not in German, but in Arabic. It is a round about way of introducing a German classic and it suggests a number of things about present day Syria and the Syrians, one of which is that their dramatic taste is more cultivated than that of Broadway and America.
What play do you suppose a group of Americans residing in a foreign country would select to present in their own language before a people speaking another language? Would they choose something by Shakespeare, or Ibsen, or Hauptman, or maybe one of the Theater Guild's more ambitious products? I believe it very likely they would select "Abie's Irish Rose."
Nothing could be more serious than "The Robbers." It is as tragic as King Lear, and full of turbulent action, of a frenzy of feeling, and the majesty of the sombre.
In choosing this play from the dramatic literature of the world as the first offering in this series . . . can we assume that there is something in it akin to the genius of the Syrians, something that they especially understand and find sympathetic, and perhaps to the average American theatergoer that assumption will explain a great deal about a country which he knows vaguely as one of the oldest in the world and which he would have difficulty in definitely locating on the map.
The following day, January 13, 1930, William McDermott's critique appeared on page one of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. It was headlined: "Fire and Passion Mark First Play in Theater of Nations," and a sub-heading stated that the theater was filled.
Mr. McDermott said:
The Theater of the Nations, a civic project long dreamed of by local people interested in the drama and in the cultural life of the many foreign groups resident in Cleveland, was brought to its first fruition under the sponsorship of the Plain Dealer last evening in the Little Theater of Public Hall with the presentation by Cleveland Syrians of Schiller's poetical drama, "The Robbers." The first performance on this program which was under the auspices of the Syrian American Club justified the planning and the hoping that had gone into it . . . Here was a masterpiece of the romantic German drama, done in Arabic, and done with a fluency and force that showed evidence not only of unusual special aptitude but of long training in the acting and producing of such dramas. It was an amateur presentation and pretended to nothing more, but it was not the sort of amateur production to which we are used in the English speaking theater.
Not only was there no hesitation, no laggardness in catching up cues or none of the contretemps that usually typifies a production by amateurs, but there was in the playing of the principle parts, a quite unusual feeling for melodramatic character and an ability to project that feeling over the stage to an audience many of whom were not acquainted with the language in which the actors spoke.
McDermott speaks of the "storm and stress" of the play, the robustness and violence of the characters. "To play such characters satisfactorily requires a certain vigor, a broadness and sweep of method, something like that needed for the playing of Shakespeare . . . and this Syrian company so far as I can judge, knowing no Arabic, brings to it just that quality."
The drama is full of long soliloquies, of speeches so tenuously drawn out that the memories of the actors must be at considerable pains to retain them.
Realistically spoken, they would certainly tire an American audience pretty intolerably. These actors speak them as they are intended to be spoken, with heat and emphasis, thereby
infesting what is essentially untheatrical with a certain color and liveliness . . . Daher Rumya enacts the hero, Charles von Moor, a character in the creation of which Schiller was obviously influenced by Hamlet, just as there are traces of Richard III and Iago in another principal character, Francis, the villainous brother . . . George Ziady as Francis is especially notable for the force and fluency of his personation of this extraordinary villain, and Daher Rumya as Charles gets the feeling of the brooding Hamlet quality of this character coupled with a fiery resoluteness which was not at all Hamlet-like but quite in keeping with Schiller's hero. Sadie Shantiry brings an effective voice and a skillful technique to the role of the heroine, and Chick Shantiry adequately evokes the weakness and pathos inherent in the character of the father of the two warring sons. Count von Moor.
There were a number of vivid and forceful characterizations among the robber band, and the whole performance was distinguished by a continuous liveliness and an unusual definiteness in the delineation of character.
The following year, the presentation of the Syrian players for the Theater of the Nations was a five act historical drama by Chickry Ganim. Antar Ben Shaddad, which was first presented at the Theater de l'Odeon in Paris in 1910. A Plain Dealer story on February 26th, 1931, declared it had been unanimously acclaimed by critics for its rapid dramatic action, colorful atmosphere and epic grandeur.
It was announced that the play would offer "special scenic effects, native Syrian music, and the famous traditional sword dance ... to make this offering one of the most vivid in the Plain Dealer series. Oriental dances would be performed by Mary Shantiry, Amelia Haddad and Gazaleh Courey.
On February 27, 1931, the following article appeared in the Plain Dealer:
"Syrian Play is Tale of Warrior"
Antar Ben Shaddad, Syrian Dramatic Club's presentation in the Plain Dealer international drama series at Public Hall's
Little Theater Sunday afternoon faithfully follows the historical tradition of its hero.
Antar, sometimes called the Bedouin Achilles, is no imaginary person, but a celebrated warrior of the seventh century and author of one of seven poems suspended in the Kaaba at Mecca.
Feats of prowess, the beauty of song, undying love, great and simple nobility of soul, all characteristics dear to his people, make him their greatest hero.
The romance of Antar, and not, as generally supposed, the Thousand and One Nights, is the work which is the source of stories told in the tents and coffee houses of Syria, Egypt and Arabia.
In those far off lands there is a class of professional story tellers, most of whom are blind, who tell only these tales. Such a man is called an Antari.
Antar was the son of Shaddad, by a black woman whom his father had made captive in a predatory excursion. By the heroic qualities which he displayed from his earliest youth, the hero raised himself from the state of slavery in which he was born, to the confidence of the king, a pre-eminence above all the chiefs, and to marriage with the beautiful Princess Abla.
The roles in the drama are played by:
Joseph Shiekh as Antar; John Sadich as Shiboob, his half brother; Sam Kassouf as Malik, Prince of the Beniabs; Sophie Jeha as Princess Abla, his daughter; Mrs. Dorothy Joseph as Selma her waiting maid; Karim Khury as Prince Amarat, Antar's rival; George Ziady as Zobier, captive chief of an enemy tribe; Elias Kaforey as a prince; Fred Shaheen, Assad Abraham and Elias M. Ellis as shepherds.
Dramatic performances continued for several years, even after the Theater of Nations project was concluded. Members of today's "elder" generation often talk about the exciting moment when the house lights dimmed and the curtain went up on magnificent scenes of Damascus gardens or the opulent splendor of an Arab palace. For many who were children then, memories are evoked of a beautiful mother in her thirties, standing center stage, resplendent in satin and jewels, pouring out the rich notes