Arts & Culture, Campus, Theatre

Celebrities, Confessions, a Conversation with Death—and Cheesecake

On Tuesday and Wednesday of the week before the Spring Break, the King’s Academy community enjoyed a delightful couple of hours celebrating creative play writing and professional acting. The Winter Play Festival began on Monday with a major success of the Arabic play, “Al Sultan Al-Ha’ir”, and ended with a longer series of three plays written and directed by a group of exceptionally dedicated seniors, Jouman Barakat ’16, Hamza Siraj ’16, Ahmad Freihat ’16, and Amin Janjua ’16. The festival also included a thoughtful monologue both written and performed by yet another amazing senior, Nour Shishani’16.

“Dream Big”, a comedy play written and directed by Jouman Barakat ’16 and Hamza Siraj ’16, marked the onset of the English portion of the festival. This play is a humorous, yet meaningful commentary on the Arab mentality that equates success with medicine or engineering. The story revolves around Josh’s “big” dream of becoming a famous comedian. Josh, played by Rashid Al Masoud ’16, represents an Arab boy who refuses to succumb to the rigorous demands of such mentality.

The first scene accurately captures the setting of the play, the contrast between Josh’s outlook on life, and thus his attitude, and that of his mother, played by Maya Abdulqader ’17. Each of them hides under a traditional persona; Josh sells himself as an obedient, perfect child who respects his mother’s commands and expectations, and his mother seems like a caring mother who wants the best for her child. Nevertheless, their respective personas cease to exist when Josh’s ratchet attitude, or the Mother’s inner Jordanian takes over. The flexibility of the arrangement of the stage, with the dinner table at one end, and the bathroom, Josh’s refuge, at another, with empty space in between, allows for their hilarious mini-fights, with the Mother’s slippers flying over to hit their target, Josh’s face.

The Mother’s frightful attitude when Josh goes off limits instills so much fear in Josh that he prepares to go to bed as if it were a marathon. The stage managers did an excellent job with shifting the lights to indicate scene shifts, particularly at the onset of the Josh’s epic dream. The bulk of the play takes place in Josh’s night dream, where he is astounded by a conglomeration of celebrities, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Shia Labeouf, Oprah Winfrey, Chef Gordon Ramsey, and lastly Kim Kardashian. They all, supposedly, assemble to help Josh figure out his future by making his dream, being a famous comedian, come true.

The costumes that each of the characters dressed in portrayed how these celebrities actually dressed in during their lifetime. Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, played by Zayd Lahham’19, sees the potential in Josh and insists on inspiring him to never give up. Similarly, both Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, played by Talal Ikholaghassi ’18, and famous Shia Labeouf, played by Huthaifa Aladwan’16, charged Josh with incredibly motivating words. In fact, Huthaifa Aladwan ’16 did a terrific job mimicking Shia’s popular “Just do it” speech to inspire Josh with messages of perseverance and tireless grit.

This crazy mishmash of celebrities was delightful to many members of the audience, but also disturbing to some. Unfortunately, the female characters were not portrayed as passionate supporters of Josh’s dream. While Oprah Winfrey, played by Jamila Kurani ’19 attempted to advise Josh to continue his education, the character could have taken the role on more properly. On the other hand, Kim Kardashian, played by Whitney Anderson ’16, was anything but motivational. She did not see any “talent” in the room, and was hinging on inappropriate tangents, namely how she came to fame.

Eventually, Josh wakes up to his mother’s loud voice, and thereby wakes up to the harsh reality of his life. He realizes that his night dream was only a brief, incomplete emancipation from the horrific demands of his reality.

The audience, which included the King’s Academy community, visitors from our friends in Deerfield Academy, as well as visiting parents, truly enjoyed this hilarious commentary on a feature of the Arab mentality that defines success as medicine and engineering, and that fails to see the beauty and potential of arts.

Written and performed by Nour Shishani ’16, her monologue titled “What Did He Do?”, was nothing short of meaning and principle — quite literally. Shishani used Freud’s Defense Mechanisms as inspiration to write the monologue. In simple words, Freud says that we have certain non-voluntary defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from feelings of anxiety or guilt, which arise because we feel threatened, or because our id (i.e ‘I want chocolate’) or superego (i.e ‘You’re on a diet’) becomes too demanding. That’s when our ego jumps in (i.e ‘Eat a small chocolate bar’) and does damage-control.

The plays begins with an old woman reflecting on her past experiences as she looks at her reflection in the mirror, which implies that she formulates deceptive reactions that are untrue to herself. She, then, talks about how certain traumatic incidents empowered her and made her the person she is — that’s her ego talking. Towards the end of the play, she represses her past experiences regardless of negative ingrained feelings, and ends the play with “I forgot.” Shishani purposefully made this line the finale because she wants the audience “to open an ending that they can close by themselves.” (Nour Shishani’16) In a conversation with Shishani, she mentioned that she thinks that the emotions that the lead character had are feelings we have everyday, but the roots of such feelings are different depending on the person, which made the play more personal to the audience. Shishani said “The moral is that we should allow ourselves to feel, yet we shouldn’t live in the past. We should remember how it felt, not what happened.”

“What Did He Do?” inspired me and the audience members to be more conscious of how we remember certain events and occurrences, and to not remain stuck in the past but to move forward.

After a 10-minute period of refreshments, the festival resumed with an original play by Ahmed Freihat ’16, “A Conversation with an Old Lady”. This play is a clever conversation between an old lady, and “Death”, who introduces himself behind the door as Jerry, one of her dead kids, so she lets him in. The setting of the stage, with the beautiful and innocent drawings of old lady’s kids hanging on the wall, was carefully put together by the crew behind the scenes.

This play offers a deep insight about death and people’s’ perception of it, first through a humorous tone that gradually escalates to a serious reminder about the reality of death. In fact, the humor accompanying the conversation as the scene developed gradually faded away, which symbolizes how we, as humans, sometimes either consciously or unconsciously forget to think about death.

Abigail Smith ’17 played the Old Lady, and Yazan Al Asad ’17 played the personified character “Death”, and they both did a good job. Nevertheless, they both could have gotten more into character, especially with their tone consistency and their voice.

In his written introduction that appeared in the Winter Play Festival handout, Freihat ’16 urges the reader to ponder death and contemplate its meaning in their lives. In fact, he asks the reader “Who is Jerry?” and displays a keen interest in provoking them to think about death and its role in their lives. This play also had special sounds effects, particularly in the beginning with the voice of T.S Eliot reading a portion of Burnt Norton, a great poem that grapples with the concept of time, past, present, and the future.

The final play of this year’s Winter Play Festival was “The Cheesecake” by Amin Junjua ’16. The play revolves around four main characters: Faisal Alami ’16 as Derek,  a gangster who runs a shabby contract killing and item-retrieving organization. Rakan Haddadin ’19 as Jimmy, an accountant turned hitman with a degree in accounting from oxford University.  Hashim Khalayleh ’19 and Dario Pomar-Azar ’19 played Lester and Evan, two other independent gangsters.

The play started off with Derek asking his most trusted employee and hitman, Jimmy, to retrieve a stolen item. Later on, it is revealed that the stolen item is a cheesecake. The cheesecake was in the possession of Lester and Evan, and Jimmy’s job was to retrieve the cheesecake and kill whoever stole it. Once he meets Lester and Evan, their encounter does not go as he had imagined and takes a comedic turn earning laughs and chuckles from the audience. After a few fruitless encounters Jimmy manages to kill Evan over a mispronunciation of the word ‘espresso.’

Getting impatient, Derek decides to take matters into his own hands, so he takes Jimmy and they go to Lester’s house for the purpose of retrieving the cheesecake. The play then takes a dark turn and Lester kills Jimmy. Derek discovers that Lester had two cheesecakes and had eaten one of them, so Derek kills him. After eating the cheesecake, derek ends the play by killing himself.

“I wanted to showcase bizarre human beings, their objectives, how they engage in extensive conversations as a means of sidetracking, forgetting about the task at hand,” said Junjua about his play. This play the most ambiguous, and the beauty of this play lies in its ambiguity. The actors, director, and the audience may all have different interpretations of the play, and all these interpretations may be right.

Written by Bushra Al-Sou’b ’17 and Leen Zu’bi ’17