Editor's note: the characters appearing in this excerpt are played by four actors, designated by the letters A-D. The story so far: two youths on a class visit to the theater, Yousef and Arvind, heckle a stagy performance of Carl Jonas Love Almquist's
Signora Luna using fart noises and a megaphone. We find them relating the story of how they rushed the stage, interrupted the play, and were hauled off by the cops.
Hey listen, that play yesterday...Señorita Luna
by that Almquist guy. Wasn't it maaaaad wack!B/ARVIND:
And everyone just. Yeah totally.D/YOUSEF:
Wasn't it mighty mighty shit!B/ARVIND:
Bro, it sucked elephant balls, am I right?B/ARVIND:
Yeah, it was bad, we know...D/YOUSEF:
I mean it was so sucky that...B/ARVIND:
Hey! We know, aight? That's enough...And then something shady happens that I'll never forget. I have this super strong memory of how Yousef is sitting there, this little Christian Lebanese guy with this awesome lumberjack 'stache, with the cards like this in a huge fan. And with like this little kind of shamed face he says...D/YOUSEF:
But isn't Abulkasem a sweet name?B/ARVIND:
And he really says it like...D/YOUSEF:
) Sweeeeeeet name.B/ARVIND:
And everyone in the lunchroom just gets quiet and then....D/ALEXANDRA
We just laugh and call him a theater nerd and Alexandra says Yousef's mom gets a visit from Abulkasem every night and Yousef is all...D/YOUSEF:
No, no, I just mean like, I just mean his name, like, I have an uncle in Lebanon called Abulkasem!When
YOUSEF says the name Abulkasem we leave the lunchroom and the stage fills with smoke. We get to see
YOUSEF'S memories of his dancing uncle Abulkasem, better known as
(singing the Right Said Fred song
) I'm too sexy for your land too sexy for your land
New York and also FranceD/YOUSEF:
(to the audience
) My uncle!
LANCE dances and struts
My uncle Abulkasem!A/LANCE:
) Lance! My name is Lance...D/YOUSEF:
LANCE continues to strut.
"Lance" was his "official stage name" that he used in Sweden. His greatest dream was to become a dancer...The problem was, of course, that only we knew about Lance's dreams.
In real life, his name was still Abulkasem and he lived in Lebanon, where suspicious neighbors whispered about his disinterest in marriage. He worked as some sort of termite exterminator...drifting around all day in the suburbs of Beirut with his canister backpack and his gasmask, spraying pests to death...all to save up enough cash to come visit us at Christmas.A/LANCE:
(singing more Right Said Fred
) I'm too sexy for your panty
Too sexy for your panty
No way I'm disco-dancingD/YOUSEF:
Lance...Lance-Abulkasem...who had like...a hybrid stink. Sweat and Obsession in some kind of crazy strong combination...He came every Christmas when I was little...some well-groomed damn huggy dude with hairy muscle legs who always insisted on walking around in only a tank top and underwear at home in our kitchen. Abulkasem...The dog lover...I remember one time, on the street, he said hi to one of those gigantic bear -like monster dogs, he just petted it all over and let it lick his face and I was so impressed.
Abulkasem...who tried on shiny shoes in stores that we didn't dare go into and sometimes spent whole nights somewhere other than the sofa that mom made up for him, and he always introduced himself as Lance, a struggling dancer.
When his vacation was over, Lance went home to Beirut and became Abulkasem again, who chased termites and wrote thank you letters...
I remember the last time Lance came for a visit...As usual, we picked him up at JFK and as usual he came gliding out of customs with a huge smile on his face, with perfume billowing around him, and everyone hugged and no one said anything about Lance's belly, which had gotten bigger, or about the steadily growing bare spot on his head.A/LANCE:
Wow Yousef, you've grown so much and Dalilla, my queen of a sister, always more beautiful than a summer rain! And Samir, my king of a brother‐in-law. There you are.D/YOUSEF:
When the Christmas celebration was done with, Lance got ready to travel upstate to:A/LANCE:
Take in the country air darlings...D/YOUSEF:
He was as gushingly happy as usual and danced down to the train station one Friday afternoon.A/LANCE:
See you later alligators!D/YOUSEF:
The apartment was creepily quiet without him. I even think dad missed his perfumed presence. Lance was going to come back on Sunday and we went all together to meet him at Grand Central. We saw him from a distance and...This is probably my absolute strongest memory of Lance...That sparkling smile in the middle of all the winter-tired New Yorkers, his cone-shaped body and that fluttering apricot-colored waistcoat he'd gotten on sale...He like soared toward us...As though he had a rocket-powered backpack...And it wasn't until he had gotten close and we were going to hug that I saw something was different...But no one said anything...No one said anything...
We just stood there like idiots and listened as Lance gushed about how wonderful his trip had been...A/LANCE:
-snow like a blanket...my Saturday constitutional in the forest...such joy!D/YOUSEF:
...The train ride back...The nice soldiers in the same car –A/LANCE:
-they offered me alcohol from a can...and had a music player!...they laughed, I sang...I sang, they laughed. Sleep overtook me in the early morning hours...D/YOUSEF:
The rest of the train trip that had been just as nice, with smiles and more smiles from everyone.
YOUSEF continues to smile as though it's a funny story.
And none of us said anything. We just stood there and listened to his babbling...Because honestly, what could we say? How could we say it? Who would lead Abulkasem up to a mirror and show him that someone, on the train, had taken a marker and drawn long black whiskers that went like this, all the way from his upper lip to his earlobes. Who would show him that someone had turned the tip of his nose into a black dot? And also written two words on his forehead, right over his well-plucked eyebrows? Go Home. He discovered it himself when we got into the car...
YOUSEF smiles, shaking his head.
Go home? What means? Go home? Why...D/YOUSEF:
Mom lied to him, of course...said that it was some kind of American welcome tradition...like that you offer someone alcohol and draw whiskers and write go home on each other's foreheads.C/MOM:
Yes, go home, haven't you all heard? This means you are home, this is your home, now, you stay, you are welcome...
YOUSEF loses his thread, smiles in a forced manner.
It was the best thing mom could think of...you are welcome...Dad just drove and said...nothing.The stream of memories ends.
LANCE exits the stage. We're back in the lunchroom.
ARVIND) No no, I just mean like, I mean his name, I mean I have an uncle in Lebanon named Abulkasem...who's a huge Mafioso...I mean that's why...B/ARVIND:
And we just get kind of quiet and then...D/ALEXANDRA
) WOOOOOOOOOOOOO!Short pause.
From that day on, Abulkasem becomes like an expression in our class...D/YOUSEF:
But you have to admit that Abulkasem is a sweet name...B/ARVIND:
But admit Abulkasem is sweet.B/ARVIND:
Which soon became...D/YOUSEF:
It turned into one of those things that we started to say, first mostly as a joke but then more serious...On breaks we shot some pool or sat in the hall and shared banana skids and then someone would just say...D/YOUSEF:
And everyone would just crack up because...I don't know why...It was just so goddamn fucking funny. Soon Abulkasem was its own word. At first it meant something that was wack, weak, lame, warped...Hey bro, how was that party last weekend?D/YOUSEF:
) I swear man, it was Abulkasem. No hos, just a bunch of white boys, we split early.B/ARVIND:
Then, after a few weeks, the meaning of the word changed and started to mean something that was awesome, phat, crazy good...D/YOUSEF:
) I swear, he was totally Abulkasem! He got fourteen points in the first quarter.B/ARVIND:
And later in the semester, like some time in December, when we'd gotten a new substitute, and Alexandra got kicked out of school after...
YOUSEF signals with his hand across his throat and discreet head-shaking that
ARVIND should censure the story.
Uh...some crap with the shop teacher. Then Abulkasem could mean absolutely anything. It could be an adjective...D/YOUSEF:
) Shit, I'm mad Abulkasem. I was up watching movies all night...B/ARVIND:
) Come on, Mr. Anderson, Abulkasem someone else, I didn't have time to study...B/ARVIND:
It could be an insult...D/YOUSEF:
) Don't play Abulkasem, man, no cuts, it was my turn.B/ARVIND:
It could be a compliment...D/YOUSEF:
Hey, check out the chica, Look! She's nice yo, she's slim fit, she's flo-jo, she's crazy Abulkasem, admit it!B/ARVIND:
It became the perfect word. But of course sometimes there were misunderstandings...D/YOUSEF:
) What the fuck you mean, Abulkasem? Oh, okay, you mean Abulkasem. (apologetically
) Okay, my bad.B/ARVIND:
But most of the time you understood the context. Lots of things were like that then...words changed and evolved. But the funny thing was, lots of other words like knatch or skrilla or shooli or chedda were ones that were overused and then disappeared. Everyone said it for a month and then one day it was just...D/YOUSEF:
What did you say? Are you still calling skrilla chedda? Nigga please, that's so ancient.B/ARVIND:
The strange thing about Abulkasem was that the word stuck around, it changed, it grew, it lived on...Short pause.
High school becomes college, the old gang from school is split up, Yousef moves out of the city to study to be a dentist, Alexandra is lost to drugs. I start working as a telemarketer and only still keep in touch with Erik...we see each other now and then...Go into the city, have a couple beers, talk memories, update each other on what's going on with old homies. On one such night we meet at this bar, one of those regular chill places, not super classy but still chill, you know...cozy...We're standing there chatting when I suddenly see Her...D/ERIK:
Hello? What's wrong?B/ARVIND:
Look...look over there...
LARA enters the stage.D/ERIK:
Don't you see? Check out that chick...Check out the friendina! DAMN!D/ERIK:
That girl? That rich chick in grunge? For fuck's sake, pull yourself together...B/ARVIND:
Can't you see her? Shit, she's fine. (to the audience
) She's just come in from the street and she's alone and...I don't know...How can you describe someone like her? Maybe if you were black you would just slide right up and just...D/BLACK GUY:
Yo baby yo baby yo baby YO! You must be tired cause you've been running around my brain all day.B/ARVIND:
And maybe if you were Mexican you'd just sneak up and whisper...D/CUBAN:
I tink you are veeery pretty, I want you come home with me.B/ARVIND:
And maybe if you were white boy you'd chug twelve or fourteen beers and just...D/WHITE BOY:
That's how fine she is. Dark curls and super sexy lips and a little cute kind of snub nose and a style that just radiates class...This is no damn hood rat, this is top shelf, classy style, you know one of those girls who studies university and has parents with BMWs and lives condo and buys unlimited subway pass and has a gym membership that she barely uses and hangs on her vacations in Hamptons and DAMN! She is fine! Kapow! Hubba hubba! Grr! (siren sounds, panting sounds
Go talk to her, then...B/ARVIND:
No...Eh, that's not my style, you know.D/ERIK:
Come on, Arvind...Come on, man, don't play Abulkasem. Slide on up to her.B/ARVIND:
She moves toward the bar and like magic my beer is empty...(desperately chugs his beer
) I get up on nervous knees, wipe my sweaty hands on my jeans. There she is. I move closer, toast my empty bottle in the air, and smile my magical smile...(wobbly, stammering teen voice
) Oh...and what might we be called?C/LARA:
Wh-wh-what's your name?C/LARA:
) Lara...And yours?B/ARVIND:
And I'm just "Oh, oh, get some water—someone here is hot like fire" you know...And I...I'm just about to say my name when I catch sight of Erik over at the table, raising his thumb like the worst hitchhiker...
ERIK gives a thumbs up and exits the stage.
And...I don't know why but I just can't say Arvind...I've always hated it...Shit, I've gotten teased so much because of it. Everyone's all: "What did you say? Is your name Arvid?" Fuck no. ARVIND. With an N!!! I just can't handle the same explanation I've repeated my whole life. "Not Arvid: ARVIND, it's an Indian name, my dad is from...yadda yadda yadda"...so instead I lean toward her and say: "My name is...Abulkasem."C/LARA:
Abulkasem...Really? That's your name?B/ARVIND:
Did you know there's an Abulkasem in Arabian Nights
(suddenly completely calm
) "Sure. Of course. But it's most famous from that play. You know, Seniorluna
...by that Almquist guy." And it's like a giant lightning strike...the transformation is complete...Suddenly it's not the nervous, girl-shy Arvind who's standing there...It's not Arvind who was teased for his stutter or his nerd name. It's Abulkasem! I am Abulkasem! The name like takes over and fills me with calmness. Abulkasem is crazy confident...Abulkasem has no shaky sweating, no wobbly knees...Abulkasem just keeps the girl next to the bar and starts to soothe her ears with the most excellent compliments. "You...You are fine...Damn fine, I mean...Really..."C/LARA:
) Thanks...God, what a nice thing to say...B/ARVIND:
Abulkasem tells about his flashy telemarketing job...Abulkasem asks interesting questions like a super pro pimp...He offers cigs and cracks great jokes and offers to pay for her beer. Everything is nice mood and best atmosphere. Up until she gets a bad conscience about her friends...C/LARA:
Hey, I have to go with my crowd now...But...Maybe we can talk a little more later?B/ARVIND:
And Abulkasem gets just what she means...You know... "Talk a little more later"...In girl talk...I swear she's hot, she just wants me. So I'm like: "Sure...You can just give me your number so we can...'talk later'...C/LARA:
Okay...I'll write it here...Take care...But promise you'll call...
LARA exits the stage, with a flirty smile.
I swear that's the last thing she says before she goes over to her friends. And I just...or Abulkasem just...Or both of us stand there with the cell number in hand and then we slide back over to Erik with two newly bought beers and toast with our bottles and everything is just so damn beautiful you know one of those nights when everything just sparkles and shines and lives and crackles and you even smile at bouncers...One of those nights when night bus drivers let you ride home for free and the winter is starting to smell like spring and your thoughts on the way home whisper...Finally...Finally things are starting to change...It was a night like that...An awesome night...
THE DEMON DIRECTOR
LARA is alone on the stage, wearing riding boots and a riding helmet.C/LARA:
The monologue starts with me standing outside my door and swearing so much it echoes in the stairwell. Fucking goddamn cuntcock! For the third time in two weeks I've managed to lock myself out. What a craptastic idiotic dumbfuck. Why is life so...typical? All week I've been so fucking productive; I studied for exams, helped my brother move, managed not to go out, helped out instead, took an exam...I've even defrosted the freezer! Mostly to avoid studying, but still! Can you imagine a more productive person? And still I'm standing here now, leaning forward and sweating, in squeaking riding boots, looking in through my own mail slot. Again. Unholy shitsucking fucktard.
I collect myself. Take a deep breath. I decide to go by the bar where my seminar group is celebrating being done with the exam. I'd actually planned to stay home, but now I would so much rather have a beer than call the locksmith. Again. He would crack his joke about how I should get a punch card from him. Again. And I would pretend to laugh in the hope of getting a volume discount. Again.
The bar we're going to is called Kelly's, maybe you know it? A fucking shitty cheap beer dive. We're talking neon signs in the window, angry bouncers, we're talking beer bottles in buckets, like two bucks apiece. Bon Jovi music, soccer fans, and cougars in leather skirts. I slip in. Look for my seminar group...move toward the bar to order...Then suddenly I feel how someone starts to pull the shark move...You know...Someone starts to like circle around and around with a hungry gaze...
ARVIND circles around
LARA with a sexy expression.C/LARA:
Of course. Just what I need. A flirt-happy Turk in a leather vest...
ARVIND tests his breath against his palm and slides up.B/ARVIND:
) W-w-what's up baby?C/LARA:
What up? I'm Abulkasem...How's it hangin'? What up?C/LARA:
I mean...I'm Abulkasem...How's it going?C/LARA:
Oh, it's okay.B/ARVIND:
(to the bartender
) Hello, can I order? A Pilsner, please.Embarrassing silence.B/ARVIND:
So...are things good, or...?C/LARA:
Yes, thanks. They're fine.B/ARVIND:
I like your boots.C/LARA:
LARA'S riding helmet
) Do you ride a moped or something?C/LARA:
Why is that good?B/ARVIND:
Why is it good that I don't ride a moped?B/ARVIND:
I mean...I don't either.C/LARA:
Well, so we have something in common. Besides, I have my driver's license, you know, and I can borrow a company car if I want.C/LARA:
LARA receives her beer.
Hey...Do you want a drink by the way? My treat. Whatever you want.C/LARA:
Uh...No, I just ordered...Thanks.B/ARVIND:
So...Are you having fun tonight?C/LARA:
Hey, I'm gonna...B/ARVIND:
You're so fine, I mean...I dig your style. I mean for real. You're really like so fine...Can I get your number, or...?C/LARA:
Can I get your number?C/LARA:
What do you want that for?B/ARVIND:
Well, you know...We can hang around a little, chill, go somewhere a little more "private," you know. Are you with me?C/LARA:
(to the audience
) And just to get rid of him I scribble some numbers on a napkin...B/ARVIND:
) Sweet...(looks at the napkin
) But...there's a number missing.C/LARA:
Oh, sorry. Here...a two at the end, too.B/ARVIND:
Sweet...Hey...I'll call you...Don't worry...You know, I have a free phone for work...I can call HOWEVER much I want...It's just one of the perks of working in telemarketing...C/LARA:
And then I finally catch sight of my seminar group...The Turk backs away to his friend with a big smile and finger pistols shooting in the air...
ARVIND backs off the stage, smiling, with his hands in the shape of pistols.
There they are. My dear seminar group. The local newspaper reporter who says that he's taking a "time out" to study theater.
THE JOURNALIST waves to
The lady with an African necklace and a repressed need to study who loves Anna Deavere Smith.
THE ANTI-NUCLEAR LADY waves to
And then the southern guy who wants to read every text from a postcolonial perspective and always, class after class, name-drops Frantz Fanon.
THE FANON-LOVER nods to
I take a seat at the end of the table, sip my beer and listen to the conversations. They're really brilliant discussions, super interesting. We drink our beer and ask each other how it's going...A/ JOURNALIST
, D/ANTI-NUCLEAR LADY
(all at once
) Oh, fine thanks, not bad, it's going, can't complain, not bad, it's almost the weekend, how about you?Short pause.
, D/ANTI-NUCLEAR LADY
(all at once
) Yes, I'm kind of tired, yeah, a little bit tired, yeah, actually kind of exhausted, almost burned out.C/LARA:
We drink more beer and agree that the exam yesterday was really hard.A/JOURNALIST
, D/ANTI-NUCLEAR LADY
(all at once
) Yeah, really hard, super tricky, really, hard as hell.C/LARA:
Although...actually it was pretty easy. Wasn't it?A/JOURNALIST
, D/ANTI-NUCLEAR LADY
(all at once
) Yes, totally, it was pretty easy at the same time, yes it was, pretty easy.B/FANON-LOVER:
) And furthermore it was written from an EXTREMELY colonial Euro-centric perspective...C/LARA:
We go on like this for an hour or so. Until the journalist turns to me and wants to talk heritage.A/JOURNALIST:
Hey...Something else I was thinking about...Where are you from, anyway? Oh, your parents are Kurds? (English pronunciation
) "Kurdistania." I live in a very diverse neighborhood. There's an interesting mix of people there. One of my neighbors for example...from Pakistan. But really lovely. Super nice, really.C/LARA:
And there's the starting shot. For the topic of conversation I have been forced into a thousand times and still can't avoid. As dad likes to say: "When people want to talk heritage they are like volcanoes, impossible to stop."D/ANTI-NUCLEAR LADY:
Alas!...Kurdistan. It must have been hard for you...to grow up so torn between two incredibly different cultures. Poor thing.A/JOURNALIST:
And I said to my neighbor, "It's okay, you can eat your food and I'm fine with your obligatory five hours of daily prayer. But please oh please don't force your daughter to wear a veil when she grows up. Please. For me. Let her be free!" I really said it.D/ANTI-NUCLEAR LADY:
Like a poor little suspension bridge, dangling between two cultural mountain walls.B/FANON-LOVER:
Female circumcision...that's where I draw the line. I don't support that.D/ANTI-NUCLEAR LADY:
) You're hanging and dangling like a poor little icy bridge that's freezing and shivering in the cold. Neither one thing nor the other. It's too tragic.C/LARA:
Ten minutes later they're deep into a debate about honor killings. Someone says oppression of women and someone says prayer rugs and someone says suicide bombers...everything is connected. I do what I've always done. Try to kill them with silence. But this time it doesn't seem to be working.D/ANTI-NUCLEAR LADY:
What's your opinion of Muslim cultural traditions?A/JOURNALIST:
How is your relationship with your father? What would he say if he saw you here right now, with us? (nods at the beer bottle
) With that?C/LARA:
"Cheers, maybe!" I say, and try to change the subject. But it's impossible.B/FANON-LOVER:
Do you feel like you're threatened from home because you choose to live in such a Western way?D/ANTI-NUCLEAR LADY:
Come here to my arms. Cry on my shoulder.A/JOURNALIST:
I can completely understand that it must be incredibly difficult to find your way as a woman in such a traditional climate.C/LARA:
At that point I've had enough. I refuse to give up this time. I gather myself and start to talk about counter-movements, secular Muslim cultures, intellectual, post-modern radical feminists in veils. Then I play my trump card: "And you've all heard of...of..." I'm trying of course to tell them about my new idol, the Muslim director Aouatef, who was a global success with her productions of Endgame
. The woman who inspired me to study theater. But...Suddenly I have a blackout. Her name is gone. And instead I hear myself say: "And you've all heard of...of...of...A...A-A-Abulkasem? Haven't you?" What was I supposed to do? I had to say something. And only afterwards do I realize I borrowed the name from the Turk in the leather vest.D/ANTI-NUCLEAR LADY:
Yeah? You all must have heard of the theater director Abulkasem? You do study theater!A/JOURNALIST:
Oh yeah, now I get it. Abulkásem, is that how it's pronounced. Now I'm with you. Yes, I've heard of him.C/LARA:
It's a her.A/JOURNALIST:
Right. That's what I said. I've heard a lot about her.C/LARA:
And I tell them everything I know about Aouatef. Only I call her Abulkasem. I tell them about her renowned production of King Ubu
, which toured all over the Middle East for five years. I tell them about the article in the New York Times that recently called her "a true gift to the future of theater." I say that she's close friends with Oliver Sacks and Robert Wilson.A/JOURNALIST:
I have them in the palm of my hand. There's no neon lights, no desperate pick-up artists, no Bon Jovi from the speakers. There's only me, telling tales of Abulkasem's life. Abulkasem, the great demon director of the Middle East, who always shows up at her premieres in different disguises. The woman with a particular passion for violet pashminas and silver monocles. Everyone listens as I tell them how Peter Brook paid tribute to Abulkasem when she received the British International Theatre Award in 2002.A/JOURNALIST:
Yes, right. I remember that too. It was a much-discussed affair.C/LARA:
I end by telling them about what happened the time when Aouatef...or I mean Abulkasem was in New York for the first time to stage Six Characters in Search of an Author
. "Haven't you heard of it? It was early in her career. One night she was at a jazz club and saw Woody Allen. She wanted to go up and say hi, but she was too shy. She didn't dare. She felt like a dumb groupie. She went up to the bar and ordered a drink to calm herself down. Then she walked over to Woody's table with shaky legs." Everyone listens in silence. "She stuck out her hand, introduced herself, 'Excuse me, Mr. Allen...Sorry to disturb you, but my name is Abulkasem and I would just like to thank you for your movies and...' And Woody just laughed and shouted at his whole group: 'Hey guys, I TOLD you it was Abulkasem!'"
My eyes meet theirs and they laugh and I smile and the atmosphere is perfect. Almost...A/JOURNALIST:
But...that's what happened to Will Smith...He's the one who met Woody Allen in New York and...Everyone knows that story.Pause.
A very peculiar silence around the table. Someone clears their throat. Someone coughs. Someone scratches their neck. And me? "EXACTLY! That's what's so crazy. That it happened to Will Smith AND Aouatef!"D/ANTI-NUCLEAR LADY:
Who's Will Smith?C/LARA:
For fuck's sake, never mind.B/FANON-LOVER:
A few minutes of silence. Then I get up on wobbly legs, say goodbye. It's not until I come home that I remember I'm still locked out. Fuckingfagpussycockanusasslickingmotherfucker. I sink down into a crouch outside the door. Assheaded cretinous duck-billed platypus...I call the locksmith...billions of blue blistering barnacles. Thundering typhoons, what freshwater loons. I look in through the mail slot and whisper...slatternly slobs...confounded nitwit...blasted villainous imbecile...I doze off...I dream about Aouatef...She's standing on a stage with a giant bouquet in her arms. The audience is cheering, cameras are flashing. Aouatef waves and smiles. There's a luminous violet shawl around her neck and one eye is a steely silver reflection. A monocle.
This translation was originally commissioned by The Play Company: Kate Loewald Founding Producer, in New York City