“The theater,” writes Palestinian playwright Dalia Taha, “is a celebration of fragility, ephemeral, imperfection, collapse, precariousness, unreliability and collision.” His 2012 play Keffiyeh / Made in China explores all of these dynamics in a series of short dramatic vignettes to be released individually as a virtual production of the Mosaic Theater Company. A total of seven short episodes air every other Tuesday starting May 11, 2021. Each explores the effects of the continuing tension and violence suffered by the Palestinian people under occupation.
Yet Taha sees her life and work in a larger context: “Being Palestinian,” she says, “doesn’t mean that I only participate in this struggle; I see myself as someone who is part of everyone’s struggle. Watch this space for an ongoing discussion of how the occupation of Palestinian land – and the concept of occupation in the world – finds vivid expression in every segment of Taha’s provocative play.
Episode 5: “The Unhappy Writer”
Release July 6, 2021
What couple of sisters has not sometimes spiced up their relationship with bubbling jealousy and clever manipulations? In the fifth episode of Dalia Taha Keffiyeh / Made in China, a struggling Palestinian writer, now at least temporarily in America, struggles with a rewrite of her novel, while her visiting sister does everything possible to distract her. Intoxicated by the American consumer culture and clearly annoyed by the ultra-intellectual activities of her brother, the visiting sister pushes the writer where it will have the most impact. Not only does she reprimand the other for her hermit existence; she also claims to be a writer herself – with many published works to her credit.
While this episode is much less openly about the Palestinian situation, it does open a window into the stress inherent in their existence and how each sister is coping. One, a natural introvert, stubbornly strives for literary success. The other, a shameless extrovert, uses her street intelligence to complete a final run.
It’s worth witnessing Dina Soltan and Sanam Laila Hashemi expertly clash as sisters. Watch them swap a pair of glasses, stand, sit, and squat in front of a computer as each seeks some sort of dominance over the other. Mom always loved you the most.
Running time: 10 minutes
Episode 4: “Business”
Released on June 22, 2021
Dalia Taha’s unique talent for approaching global issues in short, zesty two-person dialogues is again on display in the fourth installment of her play cycle, now available on the Mosaic Theater Company website. This time, we learn why she titled the whole series Keffiyeh / Made in China. A young Belgian woman walks into a Palestinian shop looking for a keffiyeh for a friend. The young owner dodges and weaves, instead offering lessons in economics and politics.
Most keffiyehs, we learn, are no longer made locally. In fact, there is only one secret factory left. The distinctive scarves, once worn as a symbol of Palestinian pride, are now made primarily in China and have been adopted by fashionistas around the world. He offers her a blue bra instead.
A vast sea of cultural ignorance separates the two characters. He does not remember more than two seconds that she is Belgian, not French or German. They are all the same for him. She takes the offer of a blue bra like thinly veiled porn, recalling warnings about Arab men taking advantage of women traveling alone. When he tries to explain the meaning of the bra, she pulls back and declares herself indifferent to politics.
In fact, the blue bra was a new symbol of challenge, reminiscent of a young woman who demonstrated in Cairo’s Tahrir Square 10 years ago. As she was dragged and beaten by police, her abaya was ripped open, revealing in an iconic photo and viral Youtube video the type of underwear this young store owner was mass-selling.
Ahmad Kamal and Violet Regan play cleverly against each other in this short and evocative piece. Once again, Taha reminds us how much the ongoing political and economic conflicts in the Middle East influence even the smallest day-to-day encounters.
Running time: 10 minutes
Episode 3: “The Camera Loves No One”
Released on June 8, 2021
Dalia Taha uses her jerky writing style to great effect in The Camera Loves No One, the third episode of Keffiyeh: Made in China. Half-sentences and poetic repetitions convey his messages with precision and force as two women sit shyly in front of a camera, discussing a violent murder. The victim was the husband of a third invisible woman. They were in love; he buys her sweets daily as proof of his dedication.
Time and time again, survivors face similar cameras, portraying gruesome murders with poise, dignity, and modulated voices. Their stories are translated and broadcast around the world. With each story facts are added and omitted, but the relentless effects of lethal force are pervasive, forcing the Palestinian people to experience, over and over again, the gruesome details of the sudden disappearance of their loved ones.
Dina Soltan once again delivers a stellar performance, her face a perfect track record of bubbling emotions. His languid but precise performance creates a physical and auditory window through which we see lives in constant danger. Sanam Laila Hashemi is just as energetic as the Second Woman, who pares with Soltan on camera as she recalls the horrors of death and dismemberment that have become so common.
Together, the first three episodes of Keffiyeh: Made in China weave an indelible web, drawing us more and more into constantly busy lives.
Running time: 12 minutes
Episode 2: “Craving for mangoes”
Released on May 25, 2021
In “Craving Mangoes”, the second episode of Keffiyeh: Made in China, Dalia Taha plunges us into a parent’s worst nightmare: identifying a son at the local morgue. An unnamed Palestinian couple sit outside the vault, unable to enter. As long as they delay, there is still hope. The mutilated corpse, now missing an arm, could have been someone else. In a 12-minute choppy dialogue between husband and wife, Taha skillfully sketches the sadness, hope, and poignantness of what was likely the last day of their son’s life. The boy was undoubtedly fiery. Her imperfections and academic failures were masked by a mother who gave the child her father’s clothes, gave in to her taste for luscious fruit, and perhaps chose to overlook her misbehavior. Maybe he threw stones or not. Ahmad Kamal and Dina Soltan brilliantly inhabit the anguish of the couple as each remembers the child and encourages the other to enter the vault. The searing intimacy of Taha’s short play, well directed by Adam M. Kassim, once again demonstrates the agonizing cost of ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.
Running time: 12 minutes
Episode 1: “60 seconds”
Released on May 11, 2021
Taha challenges the nature of time, space, fact and fiction in the intriguing first installation of Keffiyeh / Made in China, well done by Adam Kassim. We are led through double doors to a dark and forbidden space. A laptop sits on an otherwise empty table, ready to create, record and replay another story of tragic violence. Two anonymous characters, a man and a woman (Fargo Tbakhi and Dina Soltan), recount the last 60 seconds of the man’s life – just before a bullet pierces his eye, splashing him on the lens from a journalist’s camera. His grievous injuries are recorded and played out over and over again on YouTube, forcing the characters to consider the before, during and after another gruesome danger facing occupied peoples. Taha adds yet another layer to the play as the characters deftly enter and exit the drama, questioning the playwright’s intentions in crafting this brief and compelling story, and why she chose to tell their story. It is not yet known how Taha chose the overall title of the play. Maybe that will be revealed in the next episodes. Stay tuned!
Duration: about 10 minutes
Keffiyeh / Made in China is available to stream on the Mosaic Theater Company website. the Keffiyeh / Made in China is included with the purchase of a Mosaic 21/22 subscription. A standalone subscription option is also available. To find out how to order, go to online.
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