Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

World Premiere of Betty Shamieh's
The Black Eyed at the Magic Theatre

Also see Richard's reviews of Menopause, the Musical and the A Moon for the Misbegotten

Sofia Ahmad
Betty Shamieh's The Black Eyed is having its world premiere as part of the Hot House series of 2005, running through June 19th. This 90-minute work-in-progress centers on the seduction of violence. The didactic drama focuses on four Palestinian women from different centuries waiting outside the door to the room of martyrs in heaven. The cumbersome drama skewers traditional views of sex, family and terrorism. The women were victims of violence and seductions during their lives on earth. They tell how violence is forthright, whereas seduction is indirect and subtle, but both can gain power.

The Black Eyed style of speech is all in the same monotones, and it tends to become tedious with little or no action. One is reminded of plays by Aeschylus or Euripides, but this is not as exciting as the Greek tragedies. The long dissertations on seduction, rape and virginity become very preachy.

All of the women believe they are standing outside the door to the room of martyrs, each believing she is a martyr for religion or nation. Aiesha (Nora El Samahy) has already been in the room and left of her own volition. At the beginning we do not why she had left the room but we discover the reason by the end of the drama. The other three are fervent but afraid to enter the secret room.

Delilah (Sofia Ahmad) is the first to tell her story, and it is her version of the famous bible story of Samson. We find out that Samson was a "ladies man" and he liked to sleep around a lot. She believes she is a martyr, as she says "No one tells the rest of my story. That Samson only killed the Philistines in the banquet hall. Had he lived and had I not wrung his secret from him, he would have slaughtered us all." She also reminds the others that Philistine is the old word for Palestine, making her an ancestor of the other women.

Tamam (Bridgette Loriaux) is a victim of the medieval Christian Crusades and she tells the story of her beloved brother, who is held captive by the crusaders. She brought delicious food to his captors, hoping the misguided effort would free him. The captors thanked her for the food and then raped her in front of the brother. As a result of the rape, her own fiancé's family refused to allow their son to married her.

The Black Eyed was originally a 40-minute one-act called The Architect, with the other three women being a Greek chorus speaking stylized verse. The Architect section concludes the current play, with the character played by Atosa Babaoff. At first she refuses to identify the object of her mission, stating that she is not articulate. Her recourse is "Why must I speak in words when I think in images? I'm an architect of unseen structures and buildings that will never be built. I am the mother of children who will never be born."

The Architect is a 35-year-old modern secular woman whose story is very interesting. It is part realistic and part fantasy as she is relates she is a Christian Arab woman who loved movies and she wanted her death to be so romantic that she would appear on Oprah. Actually, she was a virgin on an airplane flying to a job interview when terrorists hijacked the aircraft, causing it to crash, killing all passengers.

Aiesha's explanation as to why she exited from the secret room is finally revealed to the audience. She was a self-sacrificing human bomb in a situation that went terribly wrong.

The Black Eyed actresses are all very good, even with the monotone voices that occasionally slip into some clever modern references in the story of the Architect. Atosa Babaoff tends to race through her monologue and sometimes it is hard to determine what she is saying, with words rapidly coming out of her mouth. Betty Shamieh's solo speech becomes confusing as to what is fantastic and what is reality.

Kris Stone's set design is interesting. The Magic Theatre has stripped the stage to its concrete walls. There is a row of clocks set at different times on these walls. There is a long loading dock and bales of newspapers about the floor. Director Jessica Heidt's pacing is good.

The Black Eyed is part of the trio in the Hot House Series. The drama will be playing with John Belluso's The Rules of Charity and Victor Lodato's 3F, 4F through June 19th at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, Ca. For tickets call 415-41-8822 or visit for times and dates.

Photo: Bill Faulkner

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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