Understanding a conflict

One of the first plays shown at the Kitchener-wide performing arts festival Impact 2009, An Attempt to Understand is a production that pushes the boundaries of traditional theatre.

The play, which was shown on Saturday night at the Registry Theatre in Kitchener, was written and performed solo by 29-year-old Tarek Halaby, an American citizen of Palestinian heritage.

An Attempt to Understand is Halaby’s unorthodox way of approaching the misunderstood voice of the Palestinian people through various art forms.

Ultimately, his play is a confusing, convoluted mess of anecdotes and approaches that reaches the conclusion that art cannot make people wholly comprehend the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Ironically, Halaby’s play does just that, causing the audience to think about the issue days later.

At the beginning of the production, Halaby managed to immediately confuse the audience by wheeling several suitcases and backpacks onstage and speaking as if he was merely doing an introduction to his play.

He began by describing the process he went through in trying to create the play, explaining that he wanted to make the play a dance solo but could not finish it due to a creative struggle. Thus, all he had to show for his work was the play he was about to perform.

But as Halaby continued, it was apparent that his explanation was part of his play that he had purposely designed to present through various unfinished, failed art performances.

One of the first misguided attempts he explored was getting an audience member to flip through a book with photos of Palestine pre-1947 – when the State of Israel was created – accompanied by a sombre song, which Halaby sang in Arabic.

Clearly unhappy with the way the interpretation went, Halaby moved onto his next tactic – a reversed scenario where he played the part of an Israeli border officer grilling the audience.

While this resonated with the audience – producing an awe-inspiring silence – Halaby stopped, reaching the conclusion that scare-tactics and the sympathy-card were not the right way to go either.

Halaby later moved onto a darker story about his experience at an airport in the United States, where an immigration officer endlessly grilled him about his heritage and family history.

He explained that the experience helped him finally find out what it meant to be Palestinian, which in part prompted his interest in the entire issue.

The play came to a bold but quiet close with Halaby explaining that he was going to do a dance to represent the Palestinian identity, after which he walked behind a frame of lights and stood there silently until the play’s end.

After the production, Halaby told The Cord that he had originally performed a final dance the first few times the play was shown but realized it was not necessary to end the play that way.

“One of the strongest things the Palestinian people do is stay and try to live their lives, so I thought standing in silence would be the most powerful statement I could make,” he said.

Halaby explained that An Attempt to Understand is full of a mixture of made-up and true experiences.

“I think the play provides something you’re not going to expect,” said Heather Majury, executive producer of Impact 2009.

“It pushes boundaries and helps bring people together in a cultural exchange in a contemporary context.” She continues, explaining that doing that is the precise purpose of the festival.

“It’s the idea of a community of difference, not seeking to find commonness. It’s seeking to create a dialogue between people versus a monologue,” she stated.

Impact 2009 began on Thursday, Sept. 24 and runs until Saturday, Oct. 3. It presents various physical theatre performances from across the globe.
Impact 2009 productions

Edna’s Archive
Through Oct. 3
The Registry Theatre

The Last 15 Seconds
Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at 8 p.m.
The Registry Theatre

Oct. 2 and 3 at 8 p.m.
Conrad Centre

Salt Baby
Oct. 2 and 3 at 8 p.m.
The Registry Theatre