The Mona Mansour Plays – HOUR OF FEELING / URGE FOR GOING

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.

8 thoughts on “The Mona Mansour Plays – HOUR OF FEELING / URGE FOR GOING

  1. The Hour of Feeling and The Urge For Going was an emotion filled performance. The hint of comic relief helped to subdue some of the thought provoking content of the play. I was a bit lost in the political concepts, but I found the internal struggle of Adham as a scholar and as a Palestinian a powerful message. Adham’s struggle to represent his country is one that I find to be universal within immigrant students/ individuals living in a Western world especially the pressure and criticisms he receives from his mother. The way Adham’s mother challenges his knowledge was this nagging cultural obligation that will always be inherit him. Adham is playing this balancing act of moving forward to look for a better future and yet restrained by his traditional ties.
    The same pressures were also present in Abir, who even as a civic engineer graduate still has ties to the cultural obligations that are embedded in her that is one to “wait around for a husband”. As an educated immigrant myself, I sympathize with Adham’s cultural conflict to represent a genuine account of the Palestinian situation and to fit it into the context of the Western world. If Adham’s cultural ties haunt him even in the relationship with Abir, that in the end he wounds up insulting her. Adham has an internal struggle to carry and accept his traditions with him and his mother becomes a symbolism of those traditions and the sacrifices he has to make in order to cross over to this entirely new world. The Urge for Going was a powerful sequel; the brother-sister relationship between Jamila and Jul was heart wrenching. The mental condition of Jul that was inflicted in him created a beautiful story; there was something about his child-like insight that had an underlying message for our need to change our future for the next generation. In our next generation, we cannot continue with this conflict that does not seem to be going towards a productive direction. I came out of the play heavy with feelings and it took sometime to reflect on the message that was infused in the play. There were many moments where I personally related with Adham and Abir’s struggle and at one point I actually became uncomfortable, because it is difficult to leave your entire roots behind for what you feel is the next best alternative.

  2. The Hour of Feeling

    I am impressed with Theatre J’s devotion to showing both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Growing up in a very Jewish home and society, I have not often had the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of Palestinians.

    The Hour of Feeling was an emotional tale. Scholar Adham struggles to claim his identity as an academic moving forward in his career as he is drawn back to his roots and culture as a Palestinian. One of the aspects I enjoyed most about this reading was how language and dialect was used to enhance the audience’s understanding of what Adham and his wife Abir were going through. When the two characters were the only people on stage, they spoke without accents in the familiar American English of the general audience. However, when the characters are surrounded by their British cohorts, they speak with Arabic accents and Abir is unable to understand the language. This creative use of dialect catapulted me into the story and made my attachments to the characters and their struggles much stronger.

    Mona Mansour’s writing was eye opening and original. The connections she made between circumstances of the academics and those of the Palestinians were “light bulb” moments for me. As Adham talks to the scholars he says of the great poet of nature, that only when he lets go of the landscape that inspired him is he able to write in the first place. Only when Adham leaves his home and begins to lose his wife does he realize how important home is to him.

  3. The Urge for Going

    Although I am generally not a fan of sequels, The Urge for Going was an amazing play that allowed me to appreciate its first half, The Hour of Feeling, so much more.

    We return to our characters Adham and Abir many years later. They have gone back to Lebanon and now have two children of their own, a daughter Jamila and son Jul. I was unsure exactly of what I was supposed to take away in terms of political notions from this play. I felt that this reading was ultimately trying to show that we are all human. Regardless of being Palestinian, Israeli, Egyptian, or American, these characters were people struggling with life events, children growing up in times of violence, and accepting past events and moving forward.

    The reference in the beginning of the play to the wonderful story “Who Moved My Cheese?” struck a chord with me and became a powerful metaphor throughout the rest of the play. Trying to hold on so dearly to something you once had prevents you from experiencing and acquiring new things in life. In the context of the play this could refer to the life Adham could have had if he stayed in Britain, the land that was lost by the Palestinians, or the son that Jul used to be before his tragic accident. Adham’s home was the home of a scholar, but is not just another refugee house that is falling apart. This play begs the ultimate question of when is necessary to fight for what you want and when is it the time to let go and move on with the life you have left.

    The cast did a fantastic job portraying these complex characters. I enjoyed their performances immensely and have the greatest respect for any actor who can make a reading as enjoyable as this one.

  4. Prior to attending the two plays on Valentine’s Day, I was weary of listening to a three –hour long reading. However, I found the actors so passionate, conflicted, and tortured that I forgot they were reading from scripts. The relationship between Adham and Abir posed an interesting question that I found myself mulling over following the reading: How significantly do the lessons we learn as children continue to affect us in adulthood? In the play, Adham suffers from an acute sense of inferiority while discussing literature and lecturing in the UK. He feels that he cannot appropriately express his observations and theories, and mentions that his peers may only like him for the foreign accent. Following a practice run before his first lecture, the character is confronted by his mediocrity. Adham imagines his mother telling him that he may have done well for an Arab in Palestine, but is unable to hold his own in Britain. Although Adham ends up successfully lecturing in the UK, I wonder if his feelings of inferiority contributed in any way to moving back to take his mother to Lebanon.

    The play states that Adham’s wife, Abir, threatens to leave Adham and move back to Lebanon if he remains in the UK. Although this is a significant reason Adham leaves a potential fellowship in the UK, I feel that Adham’s engrained feelings of inferiority influence his decision as well. For example, Adham constantly imagines his mother lecturing him of his failures while in the UK. While internally struggling over whether he should leave Britain, Adham hears his mother telling him that Arabs from Palestine are not designed for success. Rather, they are designed for packing up and leaving. This may have ultimately pushed him to leave a successful career as an academic in UK.

    On the whole I thought “The Hour of Feeling” was an emotional account of dreams deferred. Adham forfeits the only chance he believes he has to escape painful memories and poverty. I am left wondering why, and can only relate it to an innate pull one has for his roots or a sense of obligation. However, I fear the negative implications of Adham’s decision. These are realized in the sequel “Urge for Going”.

  5. Urge for Going

    This sequel to “The Hour of Feeling” was full of regret and realizations of lost dreams. During the reading Adham’s daughter, Jamila, is studying for her college entrance exams. Adham lives in a crumbling home in Lebanon with his wife, children, and extended family. I found it interesting that the reading referred to Western influence of popular T.V. shows such as “Baywatch” throughout different scenes. The reality Adham’s family faces harshly contrast the light and airy plot summaries of the show’s episodes.

    One heartbreaking moment of the reading occurred when Jamila found out that her father had not gotten the papers necessary to take her college entrance exam. Jamila is devastated and the audience is left wondering why Adham could have been so negligent of his daughter’s future. However, Adham explains that he tried to get papers for Jamila but was unable to because of border restrictions. Although Jamila eventually gets into college, I was left thinking why Adham had left the UK in the first place.

    I understand that Abir’s family was in Lebanon, and she also wanted her husband to take care of his mother during conflicts where she was left alone. However, it is so difficult to see the potential wasted in not only Adham but also his son Jul. Later in the reading, Jul reveals that he was beaten by officers and causing brain damage that ultimately costs him his once bright future. I cannot help but think that Adham and his children would be so much happier if they had stayed in the UK. The opportunities available for the whole family would have truly changed each member’s futures. While feelings these emotions during the reading, I realized that this is the ultimate tragedy of the conflict. Not only are families torn apart and lives lost-but the dreams of youths are destroyed as well. The cast of this reading provided dramatic and heart felt performance that provided insight into the devastating impact the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has on every generations ambitions.

  6. Although I did not attend the Valentine’s Day reading of “The Urge for Going” I still found the play to be a refreshing read. I really appreciated that this play covered the Palestinian side of the conflict as it showed how different yet similar the two sides of the conflict are. I also appreciated this work because, like “Wrestling Jerusalem”, it had an equal mix of drama and humor that kept my attention throughout. Although I read the play, I could still appreciate the different personal dynamics between the characters and was amused by the witty banter that they often exchanged.

    “The Urge for Going” also had an element of mystery about it as it did not openly explain Jul’s or Adham’s past explicitly to the reader until much later in the play. This kept me questioning what had happened to Jul and why Adham was so cynical and aloof towards Jamila and her ambitious, yet naive dreams of success. The father and daughter were actually a lot more alike than they realized, but still managed to miscommunicate and fight about the future of the family.

    It was also interesting to consider the affects that Westernization has had in the conflict as the play mentioned many American products and people. This was most apparent in the scene where the family watched Baywatch which I was thoroughly amused by. Even though the members of the family were refugees a world away from the United States, the play showed that they fought over TV shows just like an American family would. This helped me identify with them all the more, but also reminded me of the power that the Western world can use to sometimes dominate other cultures.

  7. Although I read the “Hour of Feeling” after “The Urge for Going” which retrospectively was not the best order in which to do things, it was interesting to read about Abir’s and Adham’s back story after mentally picturing them as an old married couple. Before reading “Hour of Feeling” I had a lot less empathy for Adham, who seemed mysteriously jaded. Now, however, I can fully appreciate his experiences and realize why he acted so pessimistically when it came to his daughter’s schooling. “The Hour of Feeling” actually made me surprisingly sad since I realized the lost enthusiasm and youthful vigor that Adham had possessed in his younger years and saw firsthand the reasons for his older cynicism.

    It was also interesting to realize how the individual characters were judged by each other throughout the play. While Adham’s mother, Beder, was quick to judge Abir and openly stated that she is not good enough for her son, she was quick to point out the racist judgments of the Israeli security guards at the airport. Similarly, Adham judges Abir when he calls her a “stupid peasant girl” after she disagrees with him in England. Every character is caught up in his or her own personal image whether it is one of a scholar, mother, or foreigner. Adham thinks that he can rise above his station through academics and leave behind his humble past, but this is not easily done. Even though he is valued and appreciated by his English colleagues, he still is an outlier of sorts and functions as their token foreigner from the Middle East. Both Adham and Abir try to live in another world and realize the difficulties that come with leaving behind their old world and trying to fit into a new one that is not necessarily better than their own.

  8. The Hour of Feeling offered an unprecedented angling of the issues tackled by the canon of the Festival. Mona Mansour’s play imagined a couple born into the Conflict that come fully to terms with it only once they are removed from it, in the company of Western academia. The play also becomes an allegory for social modernization. As time passes in London, Abrir self-actualizes her own role as a woman while her husband seeks to assimilate into the upper echelons of London society. This facet of the narrative plays out almost like Ibsen’s A Doll’s House and I found it to be a fascinating modern parallel to the story of Nora and Torvald. Beder’s role also complicates The Hour of Feeling, as she is the antagonist that generates both the changes and contemplation in Adham’s life. I found the persistence of her presence to be an interesting element, similar to the magic realism of Jose Rivera or a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. Besides the works that The Hour of Feeling conjured, it seemed to read as an original feminist manifesto, and this surprised me. Adham reluctance to embrace his mother is ultimately his downfall. Furthermore, Beder is the catalyst for the change and reflection in Adham’s life. She exhibits both selflessness and maternal autonomy: She makes an incomprehensible decision when she is forced to put her son on the airplane but she is no martyr for her son; she continues to guide him, appearing in times of moral dilemma. She becomes a catalyst for his realizations about not only his identity in the context of his homeland and its war, but also of his duties as a man, husband and son. Likewise, the seeds of Abrir as a freethinking woman, in a society where women are largely repressed, are planted early as she demonstrates the gusto to smoke in the first scene. These traits come to full fruition when she, after being scorned repeatedly in favor of her husband’s ambitions, makes the choice to return home on her own. The play’s end, like the Conflict itself, is bleak, leaving the audience to hope that Adham marries ambition with compassion, a marriage that would be equally useful for the struggling forces of his homeland.

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