from Kristin Brey
Despite my Valentine being on the other side of the country on Monday, I still managed to enjoy my Valentine’s Day 2011 thanks to these two readings. First and foremost, I truly appreciated that these plays were included in Theatre J’s Middle East festival. While I have not seen/read every show that has been apart of this series, these plays are the first I have seen that did not have the Israeli Jewish narrative present at all, only the Palestinian narrative. I am not sure I would have noticed that, or at least have appreciated it as much, had this point not been made in the panel discussion after we saw Return to Haifa. In my opinion, one of the more poignant comments during that talk back was the frustration one of the audience members had over the Palestinian narrative never standing on its own; that it is always presented in conjunction with the Israeli Jewish narrative. Yet, The Hours of Feeling and The Urge of Going were two very powerful examples of how the Palestinian narrative can stand on its own.
One of the major themes of the Palestinian narrative being presented in these two shows, I felt, was the struggle the characters had in trying to preserve their culture and defend their homeland while also understanding that in order to do that is to sacrifice moving forward. In The Hour of Feeling, Adham and Bedder both have so much resentment towards their own heritage due to the lack of opportunities to move forward it provides. Adham’s mother spoke of how she should have sent him to English schools since it was really the only way to ensure that he would “get out”. Throughout almost his entire time in England, Adham says things like, “We’re backwards!”, or “We are not designed for success” and tries to explain to Abir how the English are “civilized people.” Yet, as we learn in The Urge of Going, Adham still came back to Palestine instead of staying in “civilized” culture in England. We learn in The Urge of Going that at the party in England, Adham went into the bathroom and cried. He cried because he knew that this was the “beginning of the end” for him. He knew that no matter how much he wanted to stay and move forward, he couldn’t. Despite his resentment and ambition, he knew he had a responsibility to return to his homeland. The same struggle of holding on to your culture rather than moving forward is also displayed in The Urge of Going. The portion of the play that best portrays this is the discussion of the famous book, “Who Moved my Cheese?” and Hazmi’s attempt to make the parallel between the book and the Palestinian people’s current state, by comparing the Arab world’s unwillingness to change, despite how miserable their current conditions are, to the mice who have eaten all their cheese and now need to find a new source of cheese. There is recognition and consensus among the characters in The Urge for Going that the situation is dire but as Adham points out in the end, they can’t leave or move forward because they “have to stay in case [they] ever have the opportunity to go back”. While I don’t know whether this internal struggle is common among Palestinians or if it is part of the ongoing discourse, but the simple fact that these plays focused solely on the Palestinian point of view should be recognized. I felt that the addition of these shows in the festival added another level of inclusion and understanding for patrons of Theater J.
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new comment from Matt Woelfel:
“Urge for Going” / “Hour of Feeling”
While I did not have the opportunity to see these scripts come to live on stage, I found a tremendous amount of value in just the mere reading of the scripts. (Aside from being extraordinarily helpful with my paper) On one hand, reading a script left so much uncertainty in my head. Was I pronouncing the names and places correctly? Was that the correct tone of that sentence? Is the character angry or merely disappointed? On the other hand, there is more license to develop the characters in one’s head and given my relative lack of script reading exposure, it was enjoyable to read the scripts.
At this point, I have to comment on how funny it was that a Palestinian family loved Baywatch! I remember watching that show growing up (similar to the age of Jamila) and I really hadn’t thought about it since, although recently David Hasselhoff has had some unflattering press. It just speaks to the level of Westernization that has penetrated all parts of the world if its even begun to pervade theater scripts about the dynamics of a Palestinian family.
As I mentioned before, these two scripts had quite an impact on the development of my paper. I felt that both works spoke to the complexity and at times hopelessness of the conflict. Through the eyes of Jamila, a young girl who has yet to be truly exposed to the depth of animosity between the two sides, she has dreams of traveling the world and of getting an education. When asked by her family where she will visit later in life she talks of going to Europe or to the US. Her family is incredulous and berates her father for not raising her “correctly. They felt she should instead learn of the persecution of their people by visiting their homelands in the modern state of Israel. This left her crushed and in her desire to please her family she exclaimed that indeed she wanted to go their first. Later, Beder points out the racist Israeli security guards (an experience not uncommon as evidenced in the discussion after “Return to Haifa”) and accosts Abir for being a “stupid peasant girl.” These are not exactly the type of open minds that are destined to settle an emotional conflict that has raged for centuries.
Following “Return to Haifa” these scripts were entirely, by themselves, a narrative of the Palestinian conflict. They were proof that indeed each side’s story could stand on its own without being, “stolen” as some would suggest by Israeli adapter Boaz Gaon. For that, credit is due to Mona Mansour, whose work I thoroughly enjoyed reading, even if it did leave me a bit deflated about the hope for a resolution to the Israeli – Palestinian conflict.
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from Sara Darga
While reading the script for Hour of Feeling, I found the initial exchange of dialogue between Abir and Adham to be very intriguing. The way they speak to one another after just meeting for the first time is interesting in many ways. The subject matter of their exchange is varied-the tone of the conversation changes from distant to somewhat passive-aggressive on Adham part, to very personal. During their conversation they both directly and indirectly address God and the role of religion in their lives. Abir seems astonished that Adham does not believe in God, or that he should thank God for the opportunity to go to London. Abir’s surprise seems contradictory because she is breaking the “rules” in smoking a cigarette and talking to a strange man alone. The pair also discussed the subject of languages. They spoke about what languages they speak and are proficient in, an Abir tries to say the Lulu song title and struggles. Adham knows what she is trying to say but lets her struggle anyway, this is an interesting dynamic developing, especially since they end up getting married shortly thereafter. Mona Mansour writes engaging and fast-paced dialogue for Abir and Adham. Their exchanges are quick and they change subjects abruptly. This aspect of the script is important to analyze because it helps one envision how the characters would interact in a space on the stage. For this portion of the script Abir would have to act shy and slightly frightened, and perhaps trying to walk away from the conversation with the strange young man. Whereas Adham initiates the conversation with Abir even though he knows that kind of interaction is discouraged. He approaches the exchange enthusiastically and pushes Abir to engage with him even though he can sense her reluctance.
I found parallels between Urge for Going and Return to Haifa another play presented in the Voices of a Changing Middle East Festival. Both narratives illustrate an in-depth Palestinian perspective and outlook on the Arab-Israeli conflict. In both plays the characters have to face harsh realities, and realize that their way of life has changed or is continuously changing. In Return to Haifa Safiyya and Said face the reality that their son Dov has an entirely different identity from their own and sees himself as Israeli even though he is Palestinian-born. In Urge for Going Adham realizes that no matter how much he desires to live in the “civilized” England he truly belongs in Palestine with his people. No matter how much he wanted to live in England and escape the situation of his homeland he could not abandon it. Similarly for Safiyya and Said wanted to go back and change their situation and bring Dov with them, they could not. They could change how events developed and how Dov would be raised and be part of a new family that would shape his outlook and perspective on the greater conflict. I also find similarities between Adham’s mother Bedder and Miriam, Dov’s adopted mother in Return to Haifa. Both women seem to be jaded with their surroundings and resent the cards they were dealt in life. Bedder wishes a better life for her and her son, and feels almost as she is stuck in her life. Miriam is sad and angry about the events of WWII and the loss of her son, and feels displaced in the newly established Israel. Urge for Going provides interesting and emotional insight into a Palestinian perspective, which is important to understand and acknowledge.