The Fifth String

In Janet Sternburg’s play,The Fifth String, a long-lost family manuscript sparks a journey across space and time. The historical musician Ziryab joins up with three couples of various ages and Señor Truco (“The Trickster”), to embody such great cultural figures as Ibn Arabi and Maimonides, as well as the Jewish and Moorish exiles from Spain and, the displaced peoples of the modern era.

“I became deeply involved several years ago with Andalusian pre-Expulsion culture,” says Janet, “ seeking out its history, its literary and performing traditions, coming to realize that this time of La Convivienca (living together with difficulty but productively) presses on our current moment of divisions among peoples and faiths and points to ways of bringing these together. Artistically, I’ve been thrilled by the richness and beauty of this time, much of it only recently uncovered. I’m equally fascinated by a question that I have used as a leitmotif in the script: Answer me this: do not all things exist at the same time?

By means of interlinking stories, I have been able to make geographies and times interpenetrate, to bring together, for example, the words of Hebrew and Arab poets and thinkers with their contemporary counterparts. I also place the Andalusian time of creative ferment and expulsion in juxtaposition with our own time of diasporas and migrations; more people are on the move than has ever been seen before.

As participants in a world culture, we need to ask how we can go on, on what terms, in what relationship to the past and present, when people have to live in new places and new contexts. The Fifth String tries to find answers to these questions, not in a didactic way but in an embodied and compelling theatrical event that will, I hope, inspire audiences to cross traditional boundaries and make new connections.”

The Fifth String has been presented as a staged reading in Berlin and Essen, Germany; Los Angeles; and at La Mama in New York City. Full productions have been staged in Los Angeles and New York City. A full production forthcoming in 2016 in New York City.