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  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER Behind Their Eyes
by JONATHAN ABARBANEL
2004-01-14

This article shared 2529 times since Wed Jan 14, 2004
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Playwright: Angels Theatre Company

At: Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph

Phone: (312) 742-8497; $15

Runs through: Jan. 17

Behind Their Eyes: Stories of Afghan Women Alive and Among Us uses three personable actors—Judith K. Hart, Tammy Meneghini and Diana Simonzadeh—to give voice to the true-life tales of many in this 90-minute, workshop-developed piece. A curtain of brown burlap, suggesting rugged Afghanistan mountains, serves as a neutral backdrop for the silky, swirling, colorful, surprisingly sensuous burkas worn by the women as they enter to sit on a rug, sip tea and tell their tales. 'When you see my burka, you stereotype me. You make me a coward and weak ... . You don't see my strength, my hope lying underneath,' the first woman declares. Cecilie D. Keenan's simple staging falters only at supposedly-spontaneous moments of song and dance, which seem forced.

These are tales of women who escaped the Communists, the Taliban or both, not always with their families intact. Almost without exception, they are might-makes-right horror stories of repression and cruelty that portray Allah as a God without mercy granting earthly dominion to a succession of ignorant, brutal and unfeeling men. A type of Joy Luck Club for the new millennium, Behind Their Eyes makes one wonder why Islamic women do not slaughter in their cribs every male child born to them.

The real horror, however, isn't unique to Islam or Afghanistan. It's the horror of fundamentalism, wherever it is found and in whatever form. Whether Islamic, Christian, Judaic, Communist or other, fundamentalism is intolerant, small-minded, repressive, punishing and paranoid. Almost always Medieval in mindset (if not in origin), fundamentalism is a type of narrowly focused tribalism that rejects pluralistic society and embraces the rapidly changing world only for its weaponry and messaging technologies. In the Bosnian War, Christian atrocities against Islamic civilians were unspeakably savage. Too, I've never encountered fundamentalism that accepts the GLBT community.

Behind Their Eyes stirred my anger and compassion, yet I felt myself distant from the people portrayed. Not the show's fault, but mine. What can I do about Afghanistan? God/Allah/Buddha help us all, it's the same old man's inhumanity. Same old religious crap. I want our nation to use its power and wealth for greater human good, and yet it's used only for objectives of hegemony. Same old political crap. And so my inclination is to opt out, to bury my activist past in the creature comforts and relative security of my present middleage and middleclass life. Behind Their Eyes is the first of three timely theater works this month based on stories of Islamic women. I know I must hear these voices (male Islamic voices, too).

But will it make a difference if I do?


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