Staff Writer Charles Bonkowsky attended the final play reading of this year’s International Play Reading Festival: This is not a memorized script, it is a well-rehearsed story by Dima Mikhayel Matta. 

“I don’t like eggs. I don’t like them at all,” begins Dima Mikhayel Matta, writer and performer of This is not a memorized script, it is a well-rehearsed story. Matta is a Beirut-based writer, where the majority of the autobiographical play takes place, recounting their own experiences and conceptions of the city. The play was directed by Noelle Ghoussaini, a multidisciplinary theatre artist, with sound design and music by Ava Westfall.

As the title of the play suggests, this is not a standard play where the audience is invisible and the story only plays out on stage (or on screen, as the case may be). From the beginning, Matta addressed the listeners, asking a set of questions to us from the simple (“Who here [like me] waits until their phone’s battery is almost dead before they recharge it?”) to the impossible (“And who wants to join me here on this stage?”). We, the audience, are asked to keep Matta company as they relate their story for the hour-long duration of the play.

What Matta relates first is a story of meeting a beautiful woman at a 2016 New Year’s Eve party—but they will break up in mid-2017, Matta tells us directly afterward. She would rather peel a hundred potatoes a day than be part of a long-term monogamous relationship, among other things, and the stories she relates of her partners are fractious enough to back that. 

She argues in one voice (as a single-performer play must) about why her partner wasn’t there for her during a series of panic attacks; she talks about holding a woman’s hand in the streets of New York and wanting to share that memory with everyone there; she speaks of a different partner’s body in the mirror and the way in which scientists believe infants learn to recognize themselves.

Behind nearly all Matta’s experiences is the backdrop of Beirut. Near the start of the play, they tell their father that Beirut is ugly; a friend that it is too small; and another, whose plane is landing at the airport, “it must feel awful to be back.” And yet the city remains. The penal code of Lebanon hangs over their ability to express themself: Matta tells us that, one morning, they woke with “a certainty that if I kissed the woman I loved I would be pushed in front of a passing car.” Beirut is a waiting room for Matta’s current lover, who comes from cities she can’t return to—a liminal space, a place in between places.

The play is a construct. Language is a construct, a mutual agreement on sounds to represent an object or idea And, Matta says, “my queerness is my own construct. We do not share a signifier in our minds.” Later, they ask the audience to extrapolate their gender identity from only the phrase “I want to be everything.”

We don’t get answers. Matta questions her own truthfulness near the end of the play, before it ends abruptly on the line “Knowledge comes too late.”

With only one performer, the play fit well into the listening-only format—I don’t know what it would have looked like on the stage, how motion and acting would have fit into the experiences Matta talked about, but listening, I didn’t feel that I needed it. The music was understated and strategic, mostly used at transitions between scenes when Matta stopped talking for a second or two.

Matta’s relationship with the audience, and the opaqueness of the play itself, asking questions of themself and the audience but giving few answers, made it confusing at points, but doing so was also an integral part of how they chose to explore their queerness, her memory, and the city itself. And what I was left wondering, in the end, is given the play’s title and Matta’s own relationship with the audience—stepping out of a narrative voice to address us directly—is whether it truly changes between readings. I wanted to hear it again, to know how the story changed and to hear all the ways in which it remained the same.

The full reading of This is not a memorized script, it is a well-rehearsed story is available online.

Beirut via Wikimedia Commons