just saw this play reading at geva theatre. “dov and ali” was written by anna ziegler and describes the relationship between a precocious muslim student of pakistani descent and a jewish high school teacher. both are unduly burdened by their fathers’ religious dogmas and we witness some of their conflicted emotions. whereas dov reacts with lassitude by simply avoiding life’s big questions (and decisions), ali becomes a strident mouthpiece for his overbearing father. dov and ali are simultaneously drawn to each other and repelled by the recognition of their own fear and self-doubt in each other’s psychosis. ali is mortally afraid that the world might not be black and white, as his father says, and that the quran’s directives might not be enough. is being “right” more important than being “happy”? although he strikes dov as being sure of himself (and of everything else) we suspect that it’s self-hate that’s making him lash out. dov on the other hand professes that he has a mind of his own and chastises ali for being a fanatic, yet we sense that his own convictions are half-baked at best.
the dialogue between these two characters is sharp, funny and fast-paced. there are many references to william golding’s “lord of the flies” which serves to pit what’s good for the individual against what’s good for society.
the play’s turning point is based on ali’s relationship with his sister sameh. sameh acts both as the play’s narrator and one of its characters. in her asides she gently reproves ali for something he did, becoming more and more agitated as the play progresses. she also reveals her love affair with a liberal muslim boy mo (short for mohammed) and we are slowly led to think that it did not end well and that ali had something to do with it. she appears as a character in flashbacks and as a ghost-like apparition in ali’s dreams. ali finally confesses to dov that he led his father (and uncles and cousins) to sameh and mo and that she was packed off to pakistan as a result. this has been ali’s torment – his guilt and the loss of his sister have torn apart his family. the girl’s end is left unresolved. our only clue is that she now lives with an aunt in pakistan and all she does is pray – this led an audience member to think erroneously that she might have been sent to a convent. in fact, there is no concept of any types of convents in islam.
dov’s trajectory from traditional to modern is tracked through his relationship with a “blonde” (there is frequent mention of her hair color) white girl. she definitely believes in being happy above anything else – a symbol of western-style jettisoning of religious orthodoxy?
although i found the play interesting (more should be written about the interplay between different religions and cultures, especially in a country where we are proud to describe ourselves as a melting pot), much of it was hackneyed and one-dimensional. i liked the verbal sparring between dov and ali and the not-so-apparent similarities which are nevertheless explored. but did ziegler have to throw in something as corny as “israel should not exist – the jews stole it” and play into the already over-propagandized stereotype of the jew-hating muslim? maybe she was being facetious, but sometimes one has to wonder, do we always have to go there – the lowest common denominator of our so-called “free” mainstream media coverage which is sold in bulk and therefore cannot afford nuance or novelty. for some reason, in my unwaveringly idealistic mind, i hold artists to a higher standard. rather than pander to pre-existing stereotypes why not turn things around and present a topsy turvy picture of what people perceive as reality. in my opinion, that is true art.
stereotypes abound in this play – from the fanatical quran literalist, to the emotionally-distant orthodox rabbi, from the blonde blue-eyed voice of tolerant modernity, to edward said as a proponent of arab victimization in full view of palestinian suicide bombers. you will be happy to know that tossing the hijab is still very much the means to female empowerment and as a pakistani-american, i was interested to know that being sent to pakistan is the ultimate kiss of death.
all in all, it reminded me of your average story in the ny times with all its comforting clichés and facile generalizations. it’s no coincidence that ziegler’s writing process for this play started with newspaper clippings and the endeavor to write something “current”. this is why many audience members were confused about sameh’s destiny, thinking that she must have been killed because of “all the stories in the news”. five years after 9/11 and the ensuing media blitz which divided the world into those who were with us (and like us) and those who were against us (and different from us), it is time to get beyond our narrow view of what “others” are like. i think that american audiences are ready to undertake that journey.