Directed by: W. Kamau Bell
Co-Presented by Chicago Palestine Film Festival and IJAN-Chicago
At Prop Theatre
Tragicomic Solo-show Chronicles One Woman’s Search for Identity.
I’ve always had a somewhat lukewarm attitude towards solo shows. This is not because I consider them any less of an art form, it just seems to me more like a personal story explored by one person than a style of performance that encapsulates world views or themes. I Heart Hamas: And Other Things I’m Afraid to Tell you does fall into several of the traps of a solo show, such as exaggerated representations of friends and family members, but there is a certain sincerity to the show that I do not often see in solo performance. What else gives the show value is the fact that this subject matter is often skirted around in the entertainment industry or told from someone else’s perspective. Writer and Performer Jennifer Jajeh, gives a wonderful first hand account of her journey through America and the Middle East as a Palestinian woman.
Ms. Jajeh starts the show by detailing her experiences in America, a particularly affecting moment being when she is told to find her country on the wall in her fourth grade class, but Palestine is not there. The first act also has some other amusing moments, like her realization that the only successful Middle-Eastern women in the entertainment industry are Lebanese. However, I feel as though the first half begins to drag at moments. While Ms. Jajeh has another amusing segment called “Ask a Palestinian,” this segment begins to feel overused and lost some novelty for me. Although this humorous approach to answering questions does strike a much greater emotional chord in the second part of the show. I felt as though the show became much more affecting in the second act, which chronicles her visit/settlement of Palestine for a year and a half. She finds that she is just as much of an outsider there as she is in America. These experiences begin humorous and morph into horrific, ending with an extremely personal realization about her family history. While the show does have its flaws and fall prey to solo-show clichés, it explores a subject matter that is not often discussed in theatre. That alone makes this show a valuable experience.
At times I felt that the multi-media portion of the show was under-utilized. There were projections of photos of her Jewish cat, her ex-boyfriend, and what Palestine looks like on a map, but I was hoping for some more. She mentions filming checkpoints while in Palestine, but this footage is not seen. I think I was hoping to get more of a visual picture of what Palestine looks like because the only visual images I have are so skewed by media, but unfortunately this is not the case. As I mentioned, I find the realization of all successful Middle-Eastern entertainers being “Lebanese” to be quite amusing, the way Ms. Jajeh goes about this felt outdated. This is because she uses a “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” style game show tactic. I know this show has been worked on for several years, so perhaps a few of the segments are in need of being updated. These flaws are just nit-picks on a show that may not answer your questions about the Middle-East, particularly what Hamas is, but it does give a great account of one woman’s personal growth and discovery.
With a title like I Heart Hamas you may be expecting the show to be a little more controversial, but it is actually pretty safe considering the subject matter of the show. If you’re looking to get a look into the Middle East, and maybe get a little more understanding as to why some things are the way they are and how they affect the people there, this is a good show to see. You may not walk away with all of the answers, but Ms. Jajeh’s journey will make you have some new questions of your own and make your examine your views on Middle-Eastern Life.
At Prop Theatre. 3502 N. Elston Ave. Chicago, IL 60618. Tickets $15-30, www.brownpapertickets.com. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00PM, Sundays 3:00 PM, Running time is approximately 1 Hour 40 Minutes with 1 10-Minute Intermission.