Excerpt: from Roar


[NOTE: Irene is 15, Palestinian-American. Karema is her mother; Hala is her mother’s sister, visiting from Kuwait.]

Hala, Karema, and Irene enter. Irene carries Hala’s luggage.

HALA

Oh, by the way, an American man asked me to marry him on the plane.

Collage after Roar by Gabriel Held, 2012.

IRENE

What did you say?

HALA

No, of course. But it’s nice to know that American men appreciate my charms as much as Arabs.

KAREMA

The appeal of a loose woman is universal, Hala. I could have told you that.

HALA

You should have. You would have saved me the long trip over here I had to take to find out.

KAREMA

You act as if you have somewhere else to go, Hala.

IRENE

Mom!

HALA

Don’t worry, your mother and I like to tease one another. She doesn’t really mean to imply that I am a loose woman. Not that loose women have it any worse than tight ones, right, Irene?

IRENE

You’re funny, Aunty. And you’re even prettier in real life than you are in the pictures. The one time my dad took me to meet my uncle Abe—

KAREMA

Don’t mention his name. He’s dead to us.

IRENE

You don’t speak to him, Mom, but that doesn’t mean he’s dead.

KAREMA

He might as well be.

HALA

Is that crazy man still passing himself off as a Moroccan Jew? After all these years—

IRENE

An Egyptian Jew, actually.

KAREMA

I said I don’t want his name mentioned in my house!

IRENE

As I was saying, my dad wants me to pretend to be Egyptian in case it might make it easier for my uncle to help me in my career. Uncle Abe told me that I look a little like you. Is it true that a super rich prince fell in love with you and you moved to Kuwait to be with him?

HALA / KAREMA (at the same time)

Maybe.

Hardly.


KAREMA

He was no prince. (a police siren blares outside so Karema has to speak up) That’s for sure.

Karema gets up and gathers a few bags of grape leaves on their stems from a high cupboard that is packed with food items. She needs a stool to reach the cupboard. The sound of the siren fades away.

IRENE

Tell me about him.

HALA

There’s nothing to tell. Habibtey, I actually moved to Kuwait because I got a job as a music teacher. A quiet, unassuming music teacher. That’s me. Is Ahmed home?

KAREMA

He’s downstairs in the store.

IRENE

I’m sure you had a lot of (pause), you know, wild times in Kuwait, Aunty. Tell me everything.

HALA

You want to know about the men who fell in love with me? How much time have you got, habibtey?

IRENE

All night.

HALA

That wouldn’t be enough time.

KAREMA

Well, since we’re staying up, make yourselves useful.

Karema empties a huge pile of grape leaves on their stems on the coffee table in front of them and starts picking the leaves off their stems, arranging them in piles. Irene also does so.

KAREMA

Well, join in, Hala. Do you need an

invitation?

HALA

I’m tired from the flight.

KAREMA

Well, you’re going to be hungry too, if I don’t have this done today, there will be no dinner tomorrow.

IRENE

I can do it tomorrow.

KAREMA

You’ve got school. Unless, of course, you— Hala— plan on taking care of dinner by yourself while I’m at the store?

Hala picks up a stem and starts lazily picking off the leaves at a much slower rate than Irene or Karema.

KAREMA

I didn’t think so.

IRENE

So how come you never married, Aunty?

HALA

Because I could not be held responsible for the consequences. Could you imagine if I chose one over the other? World wars, destruction, mayhem would ensue. I love my fellow men too much to be the cause of all that suffering.

KAREMA

We know about how you love your

fellow men.

IRENE

It’s so getting old, Mom. Aunty, tell me about the prince—

KAREMA

He wasn’t a prince!

IRENE

But he was a Kuwaiti, right? I would not want to get with a Kuwaiti guy. They’re darker than we are. Weird-looking, too. Why do they wear those dresses and scarf thing-ys on their heads?

KAREMA

Because they’re proud—

HALA

Because they’re ignorant.

KAREMA

They are proud of their—

HALA (at the same time) KAREMA

Ignorance. Heritage.

KAREMA

Well, anyway, you shouldn’t judge a man by how he’s dressed.

HALA

Judge him by how quickly he is ready to get undressed and, when you use that as your standard, you’ll find that men are the same no matter where you go. Unless you can make men fall in love with you the way they fall in love with me.

KAREMA

But they couldn’t have loved you that much, Hala. If they did, they would have let you stay, don’t you think? Your ass was kicked out—

HALA

I wasn’t kicked out. I’ve never been kicked out of anywhere in my life.

KAREMA

But on the Arab News Net it said that all the Palestinians in Kuwait [had to]—

HALA

I don’t want to talk about politics right now. I just got here, having recently survived the traumas of war. If you bring this up now, I might start having flashbacks.

KAREMA

When Iraq first invaded Kuwait, I think it was a mistake on [our part to]—

HALA

You don’t change! I said shut up.

KAREMA (at the same time) HALA

Don’t ever talk I’ve had a

to me that way. rough day.

HALA

It’s going to get rougher if you don’t apologize. Remember you’re in my house.

HALA

Okay, okay. I’m sorry. (to Irene) You know why people like your mother get obsessed with politics, Irene? Because it’s easier to get yourself all worked up about stuff you can’t change than to deal with the things in your own life that you actually can.

IRENE

You should see her in the store watching the news and screaming at the newscasters as if they can hear her. It wigs the customers out. But, I can’t help but be a little curious too, Aunty. I mean, you were living there. Whose side were you on? The Kuwaitis or the Iraqis?

HALA

Where did you get this kid from, Karema?

Karema shrugs.

HALA

Irene, where your mother and I come from, you are born into one side or the other. The only choice you make is whether or not to keep breathing.

Contributor

Betty Shamieh

Betty Shamieh is currently the NEA/TCG playwright-in-residence at Magic Theater, and her recent productions include Chocolate in Heat (The Tank), The Black Eyed (New York Theatre Workshop, Theatre Fournos of Athens), The Machine (Naked Angels), and Roar (The New Group). Her play Territories, which premiered at the Magic, will be produced as part of the inaugural theatrical events of the European Union's Capital of Culture Festival in 2009.

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