Star Palestinian playwrights exercise “Permission to Narrate”

Palestinian playwright Amir Nizar Zuabi talks about writing and theater.

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Bush Theatre

Three plays by major contemporary Palestinian playwrights will be performed as staged readings on consecutive nights in New York this month, under the title “Permission to Narrate.”

Hosted by Columbia University’s Center for Palestine Studies and curated by playwright and poet Ismail Khalidi, the plays, according to organizers, “embody the contemporary Palestinian playwright’s use of art to resist historical, political and geographic erasures.”

The sequence of plays starts on 25 March with Amir Nizar Zuabi’s I am Yusuf and This is My Brother, which was staged in 2010 at London’s Young Vic Theatre. Zuabi is one of the founders of Haifa’s Shiber Hur Palestinian theater company and his plays about Palestine and Syria have been widely performed and published.

“Scraping away at myth”

Zuabi’s work tackles the most pressing and current of situations, but also – as Zuabi said of the 2010 production of I Am Yusuf – seeks to “scrape away at the layers of myth” about Palestinian history. “Two of us can sit having coffee and the third person will be Mr. Nakba,” he has said of the experience of Palestinian living in Israel.

The second play (26 March) is Land/Fill, by up-and-coming playwright Dalia Taha, whose Fireworks ran for a month at London’s Royal Court Theatre in February and March this year.

Imad Farajin, writer of 603, the third of the plays, is perhaps less well known in a Western context, although this looks set to change. As the script’s publishers put it, 603 recounts how “Four Palestinian men share a cramped prison cell listening to the buses come and go outside. Will the next bus be the one to take them home?”

Within Palestine, Farajin may be better-known as the writer of controversial satire series Homeland on a String, aired on Palestine TV, which provoked angry responses from Hamas officials in 2010. Farajin, however, insisted at the time that his work mocked the Palestinian Authority as much as Hamas, and that political satire was a vital vehicle for public debate in Palestine.

New anthology of Palestinian theater

An important event in its own right, “Permission to Narrate” also prefigures a significant new theatrical anthology, Inside/Outside: Six Plays from Palestine and the Diaspora, co-edited by Ismail Khalidi and Naomi Wallace.

The collection, scheduled for publication in summer 2015, contains one play from the “Permission to Narrate” sequence (Imad Farajin’s 603) and another by Dalia Taha (Keffiyeh/Made in China). Alongside these are Handala, adapted by Abdelfattah Abusrour; Plan D by Hannah Khalil; Tennis in Nablus by Ismail Khalidi; and Territories by Betty Shamieh.

As the anthology’s publisher justifiably claims, “These plays take on Palestinian history and culture with irreverence, humor and, above all, an electrifying creativity. This anthology will be a vital contribution to world theater.”

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Sarah Irving

Sarah Irving's picture

Sarah is a freelance writer and editor, author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine, co-editor of A Bird is Not a Stone (a volume of Palestinian poetry translated into the languages of Scotland), and a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. She has worked and traveled in Palestine since 2001.