As part of its Next Rep Black Box Festival, New Repertory Theatre presents, in repertory, writer-actor-designer-director James Fluhr, performing his one-person play, “Our Lady,” revealing his experiences as a gay male, and his shout-out about gays’ suicide, murder and bullying, through April 27.
Ibrahim Miari performs his one-man play, “In Between,” through April 20, citing his experiences and memories as the son of a Palestinian-Muslim father and Jewish-Israeli mother living in Israel, and his marriage to a Jewish-American woman.
The air bristles with eerie, electric excitement at New Repertory Theatre’s Black Box Theater in the Arsenal Center for the Arts. Huge, looming ghostly creatures hang suspended around the small theater, above theatergoers seated on both sides of the room.
A hideous, monstrous homophobic voice, accompanied by threatening, ugly scenes of the torment, mutilation and murder of a gay man reverberates in surround-sound. James Fluhr, a sensitive, distraught young man narrates about his symbolic lover’s hideous murder, while he stands by, helpless. Fluhr’s symbolic monster gleefully threatens him, saying he’s next, after he has brutally mutilated and murdered Aspen, “his blond soldier,” with whom Fluhr planned to spend the rest of his life.
“Help me!” he wails. Menacingly, the voice booms, “You’re next!”
The scene is Fluhr’s overwhelming symbolism of his own tormenter, and of the many young, gay suicides, abused and murder victims - but he waits until much later to reveal that.
Fluhr’s in-your-face, ubiquitous appearance, in which he approaches individual theatergoers, addresses them, stands nearby, and invites two to join him on stage, pronounces he’s facing his fears. He advises us to follow suit.
“Life isn’t much different than this very theater you’re sitting in. Go find your fear. Give it a name. Kill it. and live your life proudly without it,” he intones.
For 90 minutes, he terrifies us into shock with his endless intensity, vibrancy, and pain. Oh, my God. That pain. It’s as all-consuming as Matthew Haber’s flaming conflation projected on both sides of the theater, and as resounding as sound designer-engineer, Yi-Chun “Iggy” Hung’s effects. Dan Alaimo’s lighting ranges from blood-red, to ghostly white. Other times, he leaves us in the dark, then turns the house lights on, spotlighting us as Fluhr addresses us.
Fluhr relates how he was a “different” child, who was fascinated with his mother’s makeup; how he was bullied and beaten by peers regularly when he was 13; and how his mother went to extreme to retaliate against their church that refused to let them attend. His mother was his strength and salvation. She regaled him with tales of Our Lady, a wondrous fantastical creature who arose from the ashes to help her. As Fluhr opens his coveted box, filled with his makeup, he invites two theatergoers to join him on center stage, and sit on both sides of him.
Shortly afterward, he emerges from behind a curtain, elegantly dressed in costume designer Ameera Ali’s towering bewigged hairpiece and glittering silver gown, the personification of his mystical savior.
When Fluhr reveals who his real monster is, we’re overwhelmed with sadness, stunned into stony silence. But he’s not done. Haber’s barrage of projected images, of mothers, whose children have committed suicide, or were violently beaten and killed because they’re gay, crushes us too, like leaden sledgehammers slamming our skulls, again and again.
There’s no happy ending or silver lining here, but Fluhr has created a profound, provocative effect on theatergoers they won’t likely forget.
As elaborate and spooky Fluhr’s set is in “Our Lady,” with its jagged ghostly creatures looming over us and three large projection screens beaming sensational and historic images throughout his presentation, Ibrahim Miari strips the stage floor and walls, excluding his few props - a suitcase, drum and chair - in “In Between”. There are no pulsating, bright lights, no video projections, no elaborate costumes, no gimmickry - merely handsome,clean-cut Miari in the spotlight, who captures and captivates us with his biographic, bittersweet, at times comedic and conflicting autobiography.
He’s the son of Palestinian-Muslim father and Jewish-Israeli mother, who grew up in Acco, Israel, and immigrated to America. Talk about being betwixt and between, Miari married a Jewish-American woman who’s a self-proclaimed Buddhist.
He has spent several years creating theater connected to the Middle East conflict, here and in Israel. His background with the Acco Theater Center, in which artists create original pieces based on their life experiences, profoundly influenced his solo work.
Miari whirlwinds through Muslim-Jewish conflict and their differences, which aren’t big religiously, but form a wide chasm politically. He writes, “I have spent much of my life experiencing the conflict and cultural tensions between Arabs and Jews, Palestinians and Israelis.”
He opens with a scene at an Israeli airport, where he is set aside and interrogated by military security. He intersperses his “questioning,” or interrogation and body search with flashbacks of both sides of the family, more recent memories, of meeting his fiancee’s politically correct Jewish family, and his attempts at planning their wedding. The security officer is even more suspicious of Miari, given his suitcase belongs to his American-Jewish fiancee and bears her name, and he is obviously Arab.
Miari intersperses flashbacks of his childhood, his courtship, and tough time making wedding plans, to create form and shape to “In Between”.
He sings songs, and beats a drum, switching gears from Hebrew to Muslim.
He relates his parents’ unusual courtship, switching back and forth about his childhood, and the security officer’s taut scrutiny.
Miari anecdotally mirrors incidents while attending a Jewish school, then a Muslim school, and his opposing two grandmothers‘ insistence on his learning (and practicing) their religion and lifestyle. Basically, Miari is Jewish according to Jewish law, because he is the son of a Jewish mother; but he says later she converted to Islam to keep peace with his father’s family.
He recalls a stirring childhood incident of attending a parade during Israeli Independence Day, singing about their independence, while Arabs insist it was their land to begin with. He anemically waves an Israeli flag, which an Israeli woman accuses him of stealing from her child, and takes it away. H pulls out a gas mask from his suitcase, recalling the Arab-Israeli War.
His courtship with his wife Sara, is swift - love at first sight for him. There’s great chemistry between them, he says. They met at a camp in California, and he was determined to marry her.
“You will suffer if you don’t marry someone from the tribe,” his father says. “Your mother was different......” Pulling a full-sized puppet from that suitcase of many surprises, Miari addresses a rabbi, who ultimately refuses to marry them, a Muslim cleric, and a Buddhist, who all impose conditions that kibosh their plans. In an aha! moment, Miari says they chose a friend to marry them.
“I’m not Buddhist enough, Jewish enough, or Muslim enough,” he sighs. “I’m an inside Arab. They don’t know what to do with me. I’m the country’s cancer.”
Miari is a skillful actor and storyteller who entertains while educating theatergoers, inviting the ages-old question, “Why can’t we all just get along?”
BOX INFO: One-act, 90-minute, one-person play, written and performed by James Fluhr, appearing at the Black Box Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St, Watertown: April 16,17,at 7:30 p.m.; April 27,at 2 p.m.; April 24, at 2,7:30 p.m.; April 25,26, at 8 p.m. Tickets,$36; student, senior, group discounts. Call 617-923-8487 or visit newrep.org.
BOX INFO: One-act, one-person, 80-minute play, performed and written by Ibrahim Miari, appearing through April 20, in the Black Box Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St, Watertown: April 18, at 8 p.m.; April 19, at 3 and 8 p.m.; April 20, at 2 p.m. Tickets:$36; student, senior, group discounts. Call 617-923-8487 or visit newrep.org.