Arab spring comes to Los Angeles’ theater festival summer


Jennifer Jajeh, the first-generation Palestinian-American behind the one-woman show, "I Heart Hamas: And Ohther Things I'm Afraid to Tell You," running June 20, 21 and 25 at Theatre Asylum during Hollywood Fringe.

Theatre Communications Group went bold when it scheduled Mona Eltahawy to open its 50th annual conference, which closed Saturday in Los Angeles. 

The Egyptian-American columnist is a mainstay read for those following the tectonic shifts of Middle East nations beyond the headlines. But for theater professionals? It’s safe to say more than one head was scratched at the sight of her name on the schedule.

But Eltahawy’s seeming irrelevance to theater and arts was allayed in short order during her Thursday keynote address. That’s when, almost by checklist, she introduced a roster of artists beloved to Arab Spring shock troops, but new to Americans unaccustomed to art birthing revolution. 

Even if conference goers had no intention of looking up 19-year-old Alexandrian graffiti artist Aya Tarek, Egyptian rapper Ramy Donjewan, or any other Middle East artist Eltahawy accorded high hosannas, they could perhaps relate to her over-arching message of art’s role in reshaping the world. 

“There’s a reason the artist uses the stage,” she told conference attendees at Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. “It’s because the artist can kick the dictator off that stage and say, ‘I live here, now.'”

The bulk of TCG conference attendees may be gone, but there remain at least two theater productions on tap with Middle East themes at the fore for those foraging the Hollywood Fringe, ending June 26, and beyond. Both are one woman-shows, detonating the accepted myth of Middle East or Islsamic women as subservient voices. 

First is Zehra Fazal’s Headscarf and the Angry Bitch, a solo show at Theatre Asylum, 6320 Santa Monica Blvd. Raised Muslim in a South Asian family, Fazal’s show has garnered more than its share of attention. Winner of Best Solo-Performance award at the 2009 Capital Fringe festival, D.C. altweekly City Paper raved that, “The future of American-Islamic relations could hinge on this one-woman show.” Remaining performance times are June 19, 4 p.m.; June 22, 8:30 p.m.; June 23, 7 p.m. and June 25, 1 and 8:30 p.m. 

Also on tap is Jennifer Jajeh’s I Heart Hamas: And Other Things I’m Afraid to Tell You. Unlike Fazal, Jajeh is Christian, but just as promising in her polemic. If the clips available for view on the Hollywood Fringe site reveal a show heavy on monologues that mock American ignorance of Middle East culture, the possibility of Jajeh venturing toward the contentious topic of the Israel-Palestine conflict tantalizes. Remaining performances at Theatre Asylum are June 20, 7 p.m.; June 21, 7 p.m. and June 25, 12:30 p.m.