Patriots Who Hate Americans: Rohina Malik’s Play, Unveiled
Perhaps, Rohina Malik’s play Unveiled, would be dated since it’s “post 9/11” plot is almost twelve years past, but in the wake of the bombings in Boston, the play resounds with chilling familiarity. After all, brown men where immediately suspected this 4/15. The unfortunate event in Boston also caused Rohina Malik, a Muslim-American woman who wears a veil or hijab, to fear what might ensue during her travel to New Jersey’s Crossroads Theatre Company where her play Unveiled was staged (April 24-28). Thankfully, she arrived safely and without much more than stares, which are the baby breaths of hate.
Malik wrote Unveiled, and performs the one-woman show using the dialect and personal jihad of five, veiled Muslim women. I purposely use the word here because, jihad, Arabic for struggle, is a word that the artist says many Muslims are trying to reclaim from its current resonance with violence and terror or “holy war.”
In the play, Muslim women struggle with hate crimes, racism, Islamic culture, language and life in ways that are striking to just about any group of people who have been the new problem of a nation. It’s an old theme—the bitterness of going after the sweet life—that Malik explores through five characters: Maryam, the Pakistani-American seamstress; Noor, the Moroccan-American lawyer; Inez, the African-American southwesterner; Shabana, the West London rapper born to South Asian immigrants; and Layla, the Middle-eastern restaurant owner. Each character shares her story through monologues, for example:
Maryam begins the play making her very own Chocolate Chai tea. She is resigned not to design wedding dresses after being assaulted and told, “Take that shit off your head,” in reference to her hijab.
Noor enters and makes Moroccan mint tea. In her story, she earns her law degree after vowing to help victims of hate crimes see the sin of their silence.
Inez has a warm southern drawl and matter-of-fact tone that reinforces her choice of tea, Kahwa Saide. It is bitter and warm, reminding her to remember those lost in body and mind.
Shabana raps with the guts of youth about Kashmiri Chai and her choice to wear a veil despite her mother’s concerns that it makes her ugly and unappealing.
Layla ends the play preparing Shay bil Maramiya tea. She shares a beautiful lesson about inner strength and the power that ensues when all people remove the veil from their hearts.
Altogether, these characters reveal that Unveiled is as much a play about stereotypes as it is about storytelling. As I watched, I cried at people’s rabid racism and its consequences, and on the other hand, I marveled at the healing power of story and art.
Malik brilliantly voices intonations, facial expressions, and body language of each characters’ family as the women share their personal identity and encounters with love and ignorance regarding their heritage. Kim Fleuchaus, flutist, fittingly uses the flute and the ney in her score as she sits upstage left in a hijab. She, along with the tea table, are constants on a stage that refreshes itself each time Malik comes and goes as another woman in the group of personas.
In the end, tea is the central symbol of the play. It is the way that the theme of love gets multiplied in the literal plot of the play and in the figurative space of the audience’s collective imagination. The play received a standing ovation, and the mic had to be “put down” with members of the audience still waiting to speak. For her honesty and artistry, Malik gets the last word: “Yes, media is powerful. But so is Art. I write plays because it’s my way of solving problems.”
Details about Malik and her latest staged readings and performances can be found at her website.