In her plays Veiled Monologues and Is.Man, Dutch writer and director Adelheid Roosen offers a compassionate look into the lives and psyches of Muslims living in Western society. The two pieces, running in repertory, make for a heady and somewhat exotic theatrical experience.
The plays are perhaps interesting as well for what they're not about. There's no mention of jihad or fundamentalist terrorism, which have become the staples of contemporary drama dealing with Islam. Basing her scripts on numerous interviews of Muslim men and women living in Holland, Roosen focuses on the intimate concerns of these immigrants and how they're shaped by the strictures and varying traditions of their religion and native countries. Both scripts are in effective English translations.
Is.Man is a harrowing narrative, focusing on code-of-honor killings in the family of a migrant worker from Turkey, killings that are retributions for what is seen as the sexual impurity of his wife. Veiled Monologues is a more ingratiating piece, laying down the gauntlet to the traditional subjugation of women in Muslim culture and the obsession with virginity. Made up of 12 monologues, it adds up to a surprising celebration of their sexuality.
The piece owes a deep debt to Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues. It's a debt recognized at the performance's start, when one of the performers notes that the Netherlands tour of The Vagina Monologues (Roosen herself performed in the Dutch version) led to the idea of interviewing women with an Islamic background. And there's nothing veiled in these monologues. The women speak graphically, almost clinically, and yet at the same time poetically about their vaginas.
One broadly funny segment is a lecture demonstration on the hymen, with bubble gum used to illustrate the various forms this membrane can take. An amusingly defiant monologue portrays the lesbianism of a woman from Morocco. In a darker mood, there are pieces on the brutality of forced marriages and female circumcisions.
Three actors — Oya Capelle, Nazmiye Oral, and Meral Polat, all of Turkish descent — enact the monologues with gusto and passion. Sercan Engin provides music and songs playing a saz, a Turkish stringed instrument.
The storytelling in Is.Man becomes more expressionistic. Furkan, the principal character, tells the story of his jailed father, Cabbar, through his father's own writings, which attempt to expiate the crimes committed under the code of honor. Roosen stages the story in highly theatrical terms. As Furkan narrates the tale, his father, played by Yaşar Üstüner, sits at a table facing upstage, writing and talking in Turkish. At the opposite end of the stage sits the grandfather of Furkan, acted and sung with authoritative vigor by musician Brader Musiki. A Dervish dancer, Oruç Sürücü, adds atmosphere and a sense of ritual.
As Furkan, Yousseff Sjoerd Idilbi has a strong, compelling presence. Midway through the performance reviewed, however, his microphone headset conked out, and after delivering some unamplified lines, he walked offstage. After a while, the audience was told he was feeling ill, and Roosen, holding a script, took over the role. She was different, of course, but equally compelling; the incident added some unplanned drama to an already strikingly dramatic piece.
Presented by and at St. Ann's Warehouse,
38 Water St., Brooklyn, NYC.
Oct. 5-14. Remaining performances: Veiled Monologues: Tue., Oct. 9, 8 p.m.; Fri., Oct. 12, 9:30 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 13, 7 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 14, 2 p.m. Is.Man: Wed., Oct. 10, 8 p.m.; Thu., Oct. 11, 8 p.m.; Fri., Oct. 12, 7 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 13, 9:30 p.m.; Sun., Oct. 14, 4:30 p.m.
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