According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fringe/I HEART HAMAS and other things I'm afraid to tell you

A Christian Palestinian-American woman struggles to define herself in this politically-driven dramady. Too many concepts and opinions jumble together and the production lacks polish, but I Heart Hamas succeeds on the strength of its clever, bold moments.


Review by Cindy Pierre

Jennifer Jajeh's I Heart Hamas: And Other Things I'm Afraid to Tell You is an autobiographical fusion of comedy, politics, and drama that explains what it's like to be a Palestinian-American Christian living in San Francisco. The one-woman show is an angst-riddled response to incessant questions like "Where are you from?" that focuses on the Palestinian experience rather than just her fascinating family tree.

After a clever, oomph-less opening that includes an "It's great to be a Palestinian" parade customized just for her, she traces her lineage back 500 years to the West Bank city of Ramallah, a place birthed in religiously driven slaughter, pride, and indignation. Following the history lesson, Jajeh recounts what it was like living in Ramallah during the second Intifada-Palestinian fight for freedom against Israeli military occupation in 2000.

Unfortunately, the 55-minute show shifts so rapidly from levity to anger and hatred that Jajeh's point of view isn't completely clear. Admittedly, as a human being, she's still in the process of figuring things out, but perhaps one should develop an opinion before stepping on stage. One minute she tries to immerse herself in Muslim culture and the next she's longing for the freedom of the States. In one instance, she's railing against Israelis as the bane of Palestinian existence; in the next, she's taking care of her Jewish friend's cat, Judah. With the same breath, she takes pride in her Christian heritage and makes fun of her own disbelief.

There's a lot going on, but with the exception of her boyfriend, Hakam, her half-formed characters and shaky impressions don't do a service to the plot. Instead, she speeds through things as if she were at a military checkpoint, ready to flee from Israeli soldiers, and director W. Kamau Bell does nothing to rope Jajeh in. Despite the rapid scene changes, the first substantial bit of stagecraft doesn't happen until half an hour into the show, when Middle-Eastern music breaks through a monologue (that sorely needs more lighting and sound effects to support it).

As for her commentary, it's borderline off-color. She compares white kids "slumming" it in Harlem with Israelis "slumming" it in Palestine, which is offensive to Harlem residents, especially with all its recent reconstruction. While this supports the idea that Jajeh is not opposed to controversy--she uses it to her advantage when describing that she understands how someone can become a suicide bomber--it makes some of the political content very heavy.

From a pop-culture muser (Sex and the City) to a near revolutionary, Jajeh grows as a person, but until she figures herself out, it's difficult to latch on enough to be moved by the show. Despite this, I Heart Hamas represents a voice that is rarely heard at a time when the American public most needs to listen.
Fri, Aug 8 @ 9:15pm, Sat Aug 9 @ 1:15pm, Mon Aug 11 @ 5:15pm, Thu Aug 14 @ 7:45pm, Sun Aug 17 @ 9:30pm, Thu Aug 21 @ 3:15pm, Sun Aug 24 @ 4:15pm Tickets: $15., The Players Loft, 115 MacDougal Street

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