Noor Theatre’s Inaugural Play Food and Fadwa


By: Hyacinth Mascarenhas

Whole-hearted, talkative, down-to-earth, “Rachael Ray-like” foodies can be found in every culture, race and country, even in Bethlehem in the politically volatile West Bank. Meet Fadwa Faranesh, an unmarried, Palestinian woman in her thirties, the main character in Lameece Isaaq and Jacob Kader’s new play “Food and Fadwa.”

Seamlessly blending politics with family life and traditions “to create a sometimes humorous and sometimes heartbreaking meal,” Food and Fadwa is the new play presented by New York Theatre Workshop and Noor Theatre, which specializes in works by artists of Middle Eastern descent.

Written by Lameece Issaq and Jacob Kader, the play focuses on Fadwa’s preparations for the wedding of her younger sister, Dalal (Maha Chehlaoui) and her fiancé Emir (Arian Moayed) despite living under occupation. Adding some drama to the pot, her know-it-all, Arab-American cousin Hayat visits from New York with news of her relationship with Youssif (Haaz Sleiman), Fadwa’s former fiancé and long-time love.

Meanwhile, her aging father, Baba (Laith Nakli), slowly falls under the grasp of dementia. The audience is occasionally taken through flashbacks of Fadwa’s memories involving her father as a young man recounting heartfelt stories about his family’s beloved olive trees.

Gently kneading in political tensions of the Israeli occupation like sudden days-long curfews, military checkpoints, rules and regulations, the play brings in a personal human touch to a current conflict.

Noor Theatre board member, Lena Rizkallah, said the play takes a “richer, truer approach” by focusing more on the family’s relationships and conflicts as opposed to the political conflict in the region.

“The audience gets a bird’s eye view of what’s happening on the ground in Bethlehem without getting beat over the head with it, and they actually care about what happens to the family,” said Rizkallah. “The play gives Palestinians a face, a personality; and it’s a face people can relate to and actually like.”

Putting together traditional dishes such as baba ghanoush and tabouli, Fadwa never fails to toss in a bit of comedy and even honest humor into the mix.

To keep things interesting, Fadwa also enacts episodes of her own make-believe television cooking show while preparing for her sister’s wedding.

Throwing in a few cooking tips, stories about the ingredients she uses, and the occasional comment about each of her family members, Fadwa’s light-hearted comedy brings a gentle, lovable angle of her character for the audience to relate to and appreciate.

“We use food as an entry point to relay Palestinian culture, and also for an audience to relate their culture to and allow us to delve into politics and traditional values,” said Jacob Kader, co-writer of Food and Fadwa.

Through the gentle comedy, Fadwa still faces the reality of her struggles both under the occupation and within her family while hold on to her family and cultural traditions.

“I’ve always appreciated how Fadwa must unwrap her wounds of the heart, her self-pity, and her frustration of living under the enormous pressure of Occupation, in order to find the strength in upholding the values passed down to her by her father,” Kader said.

With the obvious relatable tension between family members and the passion to hold on to culture, traditions, love and roots, one can’t help but fall in love with the characters and travel with them on their journey to determine and survive the cards life has dealt them.

Based in New York, Noor Theatre is “dedicated to supporting, developing and presenting the work of theater artists of Middle Eastern descent.” The word “Noor” means light in both Farsi and Arabic and has proved to be such for Middle Eastern artists determined to tell their story.

“We were constantly being told to “tell the other side” or be more fair or less risqué. But they were just our stories and so we had to create Noor theatre to the inspired artists of Middle Eastern descent who have a story to tell,” Rizkallah said.

Food and Fadwa was held in NYC this past summer, and they hope to bring it to a few US cities in the near future.  They “still hold the dream of playing internationally, especially in Palestine.”

“This is not a journalistic interpretation, it’s not political. It just is what it is,” Rizkallah said.




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