Language Rooms, a dark comedy written by esteemed playwright and Stranger Genius award winner Yussef El Guindi and directed by Brendan Healy, takes the stage at the Slate Theater, housed inside the Inscape Building in SODO. Worth noting is that the edifice was a former INS building, which housed—and also detained—many of those who had immigrated to America. This grisly part of Seattle’s history marks a rather fitting staging choice for this latest production.
Being Muslim and Arabic in America, the Seattle-based, Egyptian-born El Guindi uses a well-balanced mixture of humor and gravitas to confront issues of cultural identity, assimilation, and what it means to be American. Ahmed, the play’s central character (played by George Sayah), is having issues fitting in at his workplace.
At the onset, it seems as though it’s just an Office Space-like matter of work politics; Ahmed is not being a ‘team player.’ Nasser (played by Hisam Goueli), the one other Arabic man there seems to be having a much easier time connecting. And to an extent, that is true: there is a universality of the play to which all viewers can relate; a fetching awkwardness to Ahmed that reminds us of a time when we didn’t fit in. No matter how hard we tried to just be one of the team, we were an outsider. This theme of alienation is at once broadscale but also unique to a specific demographic. This is only heightened by the fact that Ahmed works for a military facility.
The protagonist’s boss at the Guantanamo Bay-like facility, Kevin (played by Lowell Deo) asserts that Ahmed is “disengaged from group dynamics” and begins to question Ahmed’s loyalty—not only to the team, but to his role as an interrogator of terrorism suspects and even to his country. Though the well-dressed leader sounds affable enough, with an avuncular demeanor, Kevin’s smooth façade belies a very real threat that emerges as the play unfolds, leading to a tableau that will horrify you—no matter whose side of the story you believe. As we learn more about Ahmed’s past, we begin to understand his complicated feelings toward his father Samir (played by Abhijeet Rane), his identity, his patriotism, and the idea of the American Dream.
Language Rooms is not the sole work in El Guindi’s oeuvre that brings these ideas to audiences, and that is a good thing. The paucity of Arab and Muslim voices in theater demands a need for representation in this space. And even 10 years after the first performance of this work, that need persists today. In our post-9/11, vitriolic political climate, plays like this are especially important for us to see.
Ready to see Language Rooms?
Language Rooms, presented by Pony World Theatre and directed by Brendan Healy, runs at the Slate Theater from April 12 to May 4. Get Tickets Here!
Danielle Hayden is a freelance writer and proofreader. When not surrounded by words, she enjoys watching films (note: the book is almost always better), learning new things, and attending cool events around the city.