It’s pretty typical for our culture to be afraid of that which we don’t know. We see it every day on TV news and in daily conversations around the water cooler. But what we probably rarely see is the reaction on the other end, how it affects the object of our fear. That’s one of the principle reasons why Headscarf and the Angry Bitch is so welcoming and accessible. And frankly, so needed.
Writer-actress Zehra Fazal makes it really easy for us xenophobes. She sets up her one-woman show, a sort of theatrical Muslim for Dummies with autobiographical anecdotes sprinkled in for good measure, as a series of community education sessions taught at the local neighborhood center. She addresses the audience directly, as if we’re a part of the class, which of course we are.
When the lights come up, we see the head-scarfed Fazal stumble on the mostly bare performance space at ArtWorks (20 E.
Central Parkway) carrying only a suitcase. She spots a guitar sitting unassumingly on its stand. She acknowledges the audience, considers addressing us right out of the chute, then flashes the mischievous, child-like grin that we’ll see many more times over the course of the night. She grabs the guitar and launches into her first lesson. To the tune of America’s classic “Horse with No Name,” she sweetly sings her own version, complete with the new lyrics: “I’ve been to the airport as a Muslim detained.”
It’s a solid and fitting start for the piece and sets the tone for the journey we’ll embark on with her. The implied agreement: She’ll explain the American-Muslim experience, at least as she knows it first-hand, and we’ll get the food for thought in bite-size candy form. Yes, Fazal attempts the unthinkable: She’s going to take a misunderstood subject that’s usually fraught with vitriol and hate language, and she’s going to turn it into a bag of Skittles. That’s Fringe, at its best.
It’s worth noting that not every bit works. Some songs fall kind of flat. The cutesy, folksy approach works on some subjects and within some Pop tunes better than others. Throughout, though, Fazal holds our rapt attention with an absolutely infectious display of cute, positive energy. That sugar-sweet exterior makes some of her extra bawdy jokes that much more shockingly funny. It’s a great juxtaposition.
Headscarf is at its most impactful in her final class session. She wonders, without music or gimmick, if she can justify her deep-seated longings and yearnings and still be a good Muslim. Is her life Haraam or Halal? That’s not a question for the class. That’s one she’ll continue to work on while the rest of us just try to get over our fear of the unknown.