Arabian nights

Roosen's monologues considers sex beneath the veil
By SALLY CRAGIN  |  October 9, 2007
insideTHEATERcol_veiled03
Oya Campelle and Nazmiye Oral

The Veiled Monologues | Zero Arrow Theatre, Mass + Arrow St, Cambridge | October 16-21 | $15-$59 | 617.547.8300
Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues was frank — nay, explicit — in its exploration of women’s sexuality. But Dutch writer/director/performer Adelheid Roosen noticed something missing from the text. “When I played in it, I thought, ‘Why does this not include the Arabian part of the world?’ ”

She’s speaking by phone from New York, where her own 2001 show The Veiled Monologues is getting its American premiere, at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn, before coming to Cambridge this Tuesday, under the auspices of the American Repertory Theatre. Although her piece was inspired by Ensler’s work, it’s a continuation of material Roosen (who will be directing but not performing in the English-language production) has been exploring for years. She had completed a theater narrative titled Five on Your Eyes that drew on her interviews with Moroccan women, daughters of the first migrants to Holland. “These women had one leg in the society of the parents when they are at home. They go to the mosque, pray, and take very good care of their virginity. But the other leg is in the Dutch culture, which is more liberal and open and individual.” She found when she visited her Muslim friends that they “have to keep up with both societies. They don’t want to isolate their parents, so they have the two-culture thing in their hearts and a loyalty to both sides.”

To construct The Veiled Monologues, Roosen interviewed women with Muslim backgrounds in Iran, Iraq, Mali, Turkey, Kurdistan, Syria, and Somalia. “What touched my heart very much was that they were young, beautiful, and spiritual young ladies, and they were in huge pain. And here this environment is looking at people and saying, ‘You belong to my group,’ or, ‘You don’t belong to my group.’ Those children are wanting to experience life, and they come into the loyalty problem. And everyone is keeping up appearances.

“Every time I went to a Muslim home in Holland, I went as a tourist in my own country. When I went to do the interviews, I’m in a street I’ve never been in and in a house I’ve never been, and here’s this beautiful woman, and she’s giving me her food and her stories, and it’s a beautiful exchange.”

The Veiled Monologues emerged as a tapestry of soliloquies that express the full range of Muslim women’s experiences in the West — including their experience of sexuality under Islam. “To be honest, I felt so welcome — I was so touched. I felt so much in a women’s world. You see the beauty of the Arabian world, the ‘we’ culture, the real mourning and emotional expression when people die. They don’t have so many façades.”

The October 16 and 17 performances at Zero Arrow Theatre will feature talkbacks after the performance. “I believe very much in the exchange of those two worlds and not in making an enemy of the other world,” Roosen concludes. “What the propaganda is doing is to create enemies between the Arabian world and the West.”

On the Web
The Veiled Monologues:  www.amrep.org

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