Headscarf And The Angry Bitch
nytheatre.com review by Ed Malin
August 13, 2010
How many plays have you seen which focus on a Pakistani-American lesbian folksinger and were developed at Washington D.C.'s Theater J (for "Jewish") Voices From A Changing Middle East Festival? This is my first...but seriously, this piece is open to people of all backgrounds and anyone who is a Hyphenated-American will relate to it.
Expecting "angry" and noticing the title's similarity to the musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch? It's not that kind of performance piece. This show is written and performed by Zehra Fazal, whose wit, singing, and overall openness deserve praise. Any irreverence to religions and governments is calculated to make the audience think as well as laugh.
The character of Zed Headscarf is on stage and the audience is watching her give a series of talks about Islam at a local community center. Zed, born in North Carolina, is very personable and relates her experiences in the clash of Pakistani and American culture. The talks include acoustic guitar music, which plays off of recognizable pop songs from Michael Jackson, Billy Joel and others, as well as a Ramadan carol a la "The Little Drummer Boy."
The audience is quickly quizzed on the difference between things that are allowed (Halal) and things that are forbidden (Haraam). For ease of remembering we are told "Your Mom's so Haraam." Another lesson is that Islam means "the submission," so the website www.submission.org is in fact religious, "although they must get a lot of strange hits."
Every few minutes Zed says thank you, see you again next week, then starts another talk informing us the establishment objected to her last talk. "But then" she tells us, "we were not supposed to vote for Gore and Lieberman in 2000 because that would support Israel, so we voted for George W. Bush, got the Patriot Act and now we get detained at airports." And the positive side..."we are the ones who get to explain Islam to the rest of America."
Of course, the journey includes unexpected words of wisdom from the parents. What did they say when Zed brought home a Hindu boyfriend? "Well, those boys are not circumcised and you can get cancer...and if you die they will try to cremate you!!"
Then there is the question of praying five times a day. "Is there anything I really want to do five times in one day?" Zed ponders. "Well, maybe one thing..." This leads into a love song.
At one point, Zed channels Lady Gaga by dressing in a rainbow head covering and a cape which is one half Pakistani flag and one half US flag. She sings, in reference to discrimination against religious clothing in schools, "Let's all be open minded / Don't be like France / You gotta give Islam a chance. Whoa-o-o-o...."
I salute Lauren Cucarola for her wonderful costumes, the highlight being the Lady Gaga finale outfit. John Shryock's sound design brings us Zehra Fazal's music, which I feel connects the American in me to the human being onstage.
Zehra Fazal is a formidable artist who studied with Japan's Takarazuka Revue—that is an all-female troupe in a country where for centuries the men played all the women's parts. I have every confidence that this show will keep selling out performances at FringeNYC and will continue to bring us all closer together.