Have you ever watched a play and instinctually realized that you “knew” every character in the plot? That’s what happened to me when I went to see Aizzah Fatima’s Dirty Paki Lingerie. A one-woman show centered on the lives of six Pakistani, Muslim women, Dirty Paki Lingerie is an intimate revelation on what it really is to live straddling two very different cultures.

The play, which has been developed and directed by Erica Gould and stars Aizzah Fatima, begins with Aizzah as the idealistic poet longing to have a house of her own. Wearing an indiscernible black outfit, Aizzah morphs between characters with the brilliant prop of a singular, emerald green, silk veil. Whether playing the Pakistani-American girl good for a fling, but not marriage or the immigrant mother combing the matrimonials trying to find a suitor for her daughter, the veil acts as a conduit for its character’s personality while its inherent symbolism of Muslim identity, and in some causes oppression, remains ever present.

Erica says, “The use of a veil was something Aizzah was already thinking about before we started working together, as a possible way to distinguish the characters. But from a directorial/design perspective, I wanted a single, simple, visually striking element that, through the transformation of its use, could, by itself, tell the story visually, practically, and metaphorically. The “veil” is such a potent symbol and signifier, both for the audience and for the women in the play who use it and relate to it in different ways–it truly reflects how they see themselves in relation to their religion (or lack thereof), their culture, and their sexuality, which is so much of what the play is about.”

Quite funny interlaced with several poignant moments, Dirty Paki Lingerie uses the framework of interpersonal relationships as the lens in which to addresses many of the concerns that immigrant and second-generation women usually encounter. Whether it is the young Pakistani girl arrived fresh in America looking for a handsome doctor to marry, or the betrothed feminist Muslim hoping her best friend can attend her wedding even though her husband-to-be has forbade it, it is undoubtedly the final presentation of Lubna, a 50-year-old soon-to-be divorced wife that causes tears to drop. As she explains how she sacrificed her life for her marriage and children in a café conversation with her college-age daughter, Lubna’s quiet inner strength comes through as she finally decides to live her own life and the audience is met with the summation of the play: that could’ve been me, is me, was me, or will be me.

A must-see, Dirty Paki Lingerie just finished showing at the Abingdon Theatre Arts Complex as part of the Midtown International Theatre Festival in New York City. Check the website for future dates.

www.dirtypakilingerie.com

Aizzah Fatima, the author of Dirty Paki Lingerie is a talented writer/actress who currently lives in New York City. It seems that her diverse background has given her unique insight into different cultures. Having grown up in Saudi Arabia and Mississipi, and having worked as a teacher, microbiologist and at Google, Aizzah uses her unique perspective to give life to each one of her characters. The writer/actress has performed in a number of media including theater, movies, television and a web series called Landing in Mumbai, which she also co-produces. She is a graduate of the two-year conservatory at The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in addition to holding a Bachelors in Microbiology and a Masters in MIS.

Erica Gould, the play’s director, is no stranger to thought-provoking theater. Her directing credits include the world premiere production of Neil LaBute’s Autobahn and the premiere of LaBute’s one-act, Stand Up, w/ Mos Def. She also adds What Light From Darkness Grows (NPR, w/ Phylicia Rashad, Harry Lennix – Golden Reel and Gracie Allen Awards) as well as Shakespeare’s As You Like It amongst many others. Erica has taught Shakespeare, Voice and Movement, Mask, stage combat, and Classical theatre for institutions including Yale, NYU, Fordham, Pace, SVA, and the O’Neill National Theatre Institute.

Aizzah, what inspired you to write this play? When I started writing this play, it occurred to me that there was a lot I wanted to say about being Muslim-American.  I woke up one day shocked to realize that parts of the country I call home had developed virulent Islamophobic sentiment.  A country that was founded on freedom of religion now had organized opposition and violent acts beings committed to prevent the building of mosques.  Most shocking was when it hit home—I’m referring to the furor about the Park 51 community center and Mosque in downtown NYC.  This show was born out of the current climate we live in America and to show realistic portrayals of American Muslims.  In fact, I hope the audience comes away with the impression that there is nothing contradictory about being a Muslim-American or a Pakistani-American.

Are the characters based on people you know, or are they an amalgamation of people in your life? The play is based on real people and events.  I knew all these women who are Pakistani-American, and I thought they each had an amazing story.  Some of them are people I’m very close to, and others are stories of people I had the pleasure of meeting briefly.  I wanted to explore how women from this particular background straddle two cultures that can be viewed as contradictory by some.  I wanted to give a voice to these women, and share their stories.  A larger goal was to portray realistic images of Pakistanis and Muslims because in recent years we have seen a lot of negative depictions of people from this cultural background.  I wanted to show people how similar we all are on a human level despite some superficial differences.

How do you feel about its reception? It’s been amazing, and the interest in the play has been beyond anything I ever imagined.  People from all walks of life connect with the characters in the play.  When I first started writing this play, my goal was to inform those audience members who did not know much about the Pakistani-American community.  This play has in fact been very popular amongst the Pakistani-American community as well as others.  I recently had an older Japanese-American couple tell me that a lot of the issues I touched on in the play were very similar to what they also deal with.  I have had Pakistani women tell me how touched they were by the stories, and they saw glimpses of themselves in my characters.  I had an African-American woman from the Bronx tell me that the mother who is trying to set up her daughter’s marriage reminds her a lot of her mom.  This woman was not even Muslim.  I wanted to create very specific characters, but in doing so, I’ve created characters with universal appeal.  These characters resonate with audiences of various backgrounds.

 

Erica, where do you want to see this play go? I would like to reach a wider audience in NYC, both within the theater-going community (through an extended run in a larger house–commercial Off-Broadway, or in partnership with one of the city’s non-for-profit residential theater institutions), as well as amongst those who are not necessarily regular theater-goers (through community-based venues that are more “off-the-radar”). I’d also like to take the piece outside NYC–to university campuses, regional theaters, perhaps, and to communities with and without substantial Muslim populations.

I think the important thing is for the piece to be seen both by people for whom it would resonate, and by those for whom it might represent a different way of looking at things, or for whom it might encourage seeing something familiar in a new way. I think it is important for cultures that are underrepresented, or not represented three-dimensionally, in mainstream arts and media to be given a voice, and for people of that culture to see themselves being seen and heard; but I think it is equally, and perhaps even more important, to give people who are outside that particular cultural/religious community an opportunity to see themselves and their own personal, emotional experiences reflected in the stories of a different culture. I think that is a very positive and powerful tool for change–in terms of transcending prejudice and fears of difference, and it is one of the more important things a work of theater can uniquely do–provided it is simultaneously deeply specific, as well as universal, in its presentation of human experience. And that it is entertaining.

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www.AizzahFatima.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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