What is it like to be a Palestinian born and raised in Israel? Home?, by Hend Ayoub, is an autobiographical one-woman play about a young woman’s exploration of this dual identity. Ayoub and Director Carey Perloff’s production is entertaining and essential.
We first meet Hend as a lively 5-year-old, wearing a princess crown and carrying a wand. She is singing a popular Purim song in Hebrew. Along with her best friend, Avigail, daughter of a prominent local Rabbi, she is en route to a Purim party.
Purim celebrates the victory of Queen Esther, the Persian King Ahasuerus’ wife, who helped save the Jews from the evil vizier, Haman. It is traditional to eat Hamantaschen, sometimes called Haman’s ears, a tricornered pastry filled with poppyseed paste
Hend is referred to as a “stinking Arab,” and although her best friend defends her, the hurt runs deep. This initial exchange sets the tone for the rest of the play; Hend’s good intentions, caring nature, and natural talents are frequently frustrated by events and prejudices utterly beyond her control.
When she is 11, the war in Lebanon is raging, and Hend is reprimanded for bringing a Palestinian flag to her Arab school.
As a teenager, Hend can’t find work in a Haifa restaurant, except an American one: McDonalds.
Once Hend finally finds her true calling as an actress, she has difficulty finding work in Israel because “she is an Arab.” When she tries again in Egypt, one of only two countries open to her at the time with her Israeli passport, she is rejected for roles because she is a “Jewish Arab.”
Ayoub has a remarkable ability to perform a staggering variety of characters, from her grandmother complaining about the information in Israeli textbooks (“Ask me.. the book? I should write my own book!”) to a suspicious airport agent checking her baggage on her first plane trip, to her older brother, Jalal, who loves her but sometimes treats her with big-brotherly condescension. Her scenes with her imaginative, devoted mother are a highlight of the production.
Events in the history of Israel and Palestine are deftly woven into the text: the Balfour Declaration of 1917, when the British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour expressed the British government’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The Six Day War of 1967. The Palestinian uprisings against occupation: the first intifada (1987–1993), and the second intifada (2000–2005). May 14, 1948, is the date of the founding of Israel as an independent Jewish state. On May 15 of that same year, the Palestinians remember the Nakba, during which their society was destroyed and a majority of Palestinian Arabs were displaced. Later there are the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust.
Hend faces serious personal loss during the course of the play. She must cope with employment discrimination, prejudice against Arabs, and a world that often seems indifferent to her most deeply held dreams. Yet she never loses her sense of humor or her determination to move forward no matter how distant or unachievable her goals might seem.
The Egyptian casting director tells Hend to go home. She responds with the following speech:
Home! Where is that? I don’t have any home sir cause I’m not Israeli. The ISRAELIS keep making that very clear. I can’t be a waitress in their restaurants, I can’t fly out of their airports without being harassed. I can’t go to a Purim party even though I had the perfect little Princess crown. And then I come HERE! And to you I’m the scum of the earth and a traitor because I’m not “your kind of Arab.” “Go home?” Why don’t you tell me where home is for people like me?
Through all the discrimination, vitriol, clueless advisors, endless acting classes, and absurd expectations, she finds herself in America and becomes what her mother always wanted her to be: An independent woman. An actress. And someone who has a vital message for us all. Keep going.
Running Time: 80 minutes, with no intermission.
Home? Or a Palestinian Woman’s Pursuit of Life, Liberty & Happiness plays through November 13, 2022, produced by Voices Festival Productions as part of its Voices from a Changing Middle East Festival, performing at The Corner at Whitman-Walker, 1701 14th Street NW (at R Street), Washington, DC. Tickets ($35 + fee and tax) can be purchased online.
COVID Safety: All audiences must be masked. Voices Festival Productions’ Safety Practices are here.
Home? Or a Palestinian Woman’s Pursuit of Life, Liberty & Happiness
A Workshop Production
Written and performed by Hend Ayoub
Directed by Carey Perloff
Assistant Director: Sam Sherman
Dramaturg: Salma S. Zohdi
Lighting/Projections Consultant: Devin Kinch
Properties Consultant: Elizabeth Long
Sound Designer: Alistair Edwards
Master Electrician: Cassandra Saulski
Production Stage Manager: David Elias
Festival Production Manager: Keta Newborn
Behind the lines: A talk with Hend Ayoub, the actor whose performance in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ radiates fury, hope, and joy at Arena Stage (interview with Hend Ayoub by Ravelle Brickman, January 30, 2020)