A Palestinian’s reaction to 9/11

According to the Koran, the houri are eternal virgins who are wed to the faithful of Allah in paradise. In the Palestinian press, the death of a martyr is not announced as a funeral, but as a wedding to the black-eyed virgins. While in the West suicide bombings are seen as an act of desperation, in some quarters of the Middle East they are viewed as the ultimate act of self-sacrifice that is rewarded in the afterlife. This is the context of the play «The Black Eyed» by Palestinian-American writer Betty Shamieh, which is on stage for the first time in Greece at the Fournos Theater (168 Mavromichali). The main characters are four young women, corresponding to four Palestinians who have died at different times in history: the seductive Delilah (performed by Stevi Fortoma), the frightened, Crusades-era Tamam (Evdokia Statiri), the wrathful suicide bomber of the present day Aiesha (Anna Koutsaftiki) and an anonymous, neurotic New York architect of Palestinian origin (Kalliroe Myriangou). All four characters met with violent deaths: the mighty Samson’s wrath cost Delilah her life; Tamam gave her body and soul to the crusaders to save her martyr brother; Aiesha died during a suicide bombing; and the architect was on board one of the aircraft that crashed into the Twin Towers. All four are on a (vengeful) quest for their brother, love and/or killer. They are united by as many things as separate them and this relationship reveals the depths of each one’s character as well as the real reason they met their death. Each conceals a secret, especially Aiesha and the architect. «The play is the reaction of a Palestinian women to the events of 9/11,» said Shamieh while in Athens for the premiere yesterday. «Even my friends turned against me at the time,» she says. «I teach screenwriting in New York and one of my students lost her father in the Twin Towers. They never recovered his body. The last thing you want is for someone who is hurting to hate you so much, but it doesn’t always depend on you. Generally, when you are safe it is easy to be liberal.» Shamieh does not omit to make a scathing commentary on the hypocrisy of the current US administration. «We are supposed to be fighting for human rights and yet are allied with two very oppressive regimes, those of Saudi Arabia and Egypt,» she says. Shamieh’s parents moved to San Francisco when she was born in the 1960s. Her mother is Christian Orthodox and her father Catholic. He is American, but she speaks her mother tongue and frequently travels to the Middle East. Although «The Black Eyed» is highly political, it does not condemn or exalt any one side. Despite its political nature, however, it is human weakness, contradictions and passion that lie at its core. Sexuality and sensuality play a pivotal part and is often the reason why these women went to their deaths or why they suffer in the afterlife. «The inner temperature is high in this play,» says director Takis Tzamargias, who in the play also throws the spotlight on marriage as portrayed in ancient Greek drama and classic Woody Allen-esque humor. The director has set the four characters in a waiting room, whose claustrophobic atmosphere is enhanced by poignant music selected by Platonas Andritsakis.

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