Falling on the Monday after a weekend of a whole lot of Vagina talk, the NYC premiere of the Hijabi Monologues brought in a full house of students and friends intrigued by the irony and progressiveness of a production whose title replaces genitalia with a religious symbol. Sahar Ullah, creator and collector of the monologues, was introduced by Columbia’s Muslim Students Association with great excitement as her debut in New York meant big things for the performance that had found its humble beginnings at University of Chicago only four years ago.
According to Ullah, the monologues represented a space in which people could hear more than just “one story” about the experience of Muslim women “marked” by the Hijab. But, to the surprise of many who came expecting an epic performance, Ullah expressed her desire to make the night about a “great discussion.” With questions ranging from “Have you ever met a Muslim before?” to “Did the monologues take its characters beyond the burden of representation?”, the“Hijabi Monologues Feedback” survey placed on every chair survey set the stage for the somewhat awkward “discussion” that would become of the performance.
To the surprise of many students, the performance quickly unfolded into more of a solitary longwinded monologue than anything resembling a discussion, as the succession of tales were recited by Ullah alone for the entirety of the show. While Ullah’s degree in Political Science may not have prepared her for a career in theater, the messages expressed were at times compelling and amusing to the audience.
Asking questions such as, “Do you know what its like…to be looked everyday as the representative for a world religion?” and recounting her own experience as a “hurricane” praying in the ABC News Sports trailer at a UMiami game, Ullah succeeded in raising awareness of the subjective experience of being “marked” by the Hijabi to those who had never “met a Muslim before” and in bringing laughter to those who had lived similar experiences. Vacillating between more somber tales of teenage pregnancy and more comical accounts of “nerdy white boys” aspiring to be the “Hijabi Protector,” the show did make a point of presenting a variety of experiences, but fell through on making the performance more than an informal lecture.
Despite the lack of theatrical entertainment, the mission of the show is definitely one that breeds a new awareness of women who are often overlooked and simplified by the mark of the Hijab. With such a powerful mission in mind and bearing the title of a work that exploded on the pop culture scene, Hijabi monologues owes it to itself and to its fans to be a bit more than a Monday night discussion.
-Photo of Hijabi Monologues from Ayesha S. Photography