Back of the Throat – Yussef El Guindi

bott-2We chose this arising out of a discussion about Guapa by Saleem Haddad, whose author’s experience as a Muslim in America was unrealistic.

We don’t think we’ve anything to hide but what’s on your bookshelf’? in your room? Anything can be misconstrued. People can incriminate you without thinking, based anything they seize on to create and justify a belief.

The Patriot Act gave carte blanche to the authorities to override the human right to freedom and privacy. Now Europe, with its current, paranoid obsession with surveillance, desperately needs this play. What’s in your emails? A copy of everything is kept for perusal.

Shelly, the librarian is stereotyped, worrying about a rare map she’d fold duo in order to defend herself.

The women are sexually insecure and project this on to Khaleed; wondering if he is gay. The incident in the men’s room more than hints at it. Gays, like Muslims, have shared the experience of being marginalised.

 During a Nazi interrogation of suspected Jews in France, a stunning rumour begins to circulate: “They’re going to look at your penis.” Forty-five years later, not only has the offstage rumor become an onstage reality, but in Back of the Throat reality is also allegory. Our protagonist’s penis is more than merely an organ: It is a metaphor for all the privacy that Americans have lost in the aftermath of the World Trade Centre attacks on 9/11.The playwright’s instruction to ‘play it light’ doesn’t mean that we don’t feel intimidating, menacing threat from right the very beginning.

The playwright: “I wish there were more political plays,” he said. “The problem with the American theatre is it’s not addressing what’s going on.”

“Friends were questioned, friends of friends,” he said. “The Patriot Act came in, and suddenly you didn’t know what your rights were. You started hearing these stories of people getting stopped for what they were reading at airports, of the F.B.I. going to galleries and questioning the artist if the exhibit was politically charged.”

“I began to look at my apartment. What do I have in my apartment if an F.B.I. agent came in? I have books on assassins, guns, Islam, research materials, the Koran, that would identify me as interested in the Middle East. In my paranoia, I started to imagine what could happen.”


“person of interest”

“extraordinary rendition”

“When you thought I was at work. (To Carl) I should also tell you that I thought he was having an affair. I’m still not sure he wasn’t . . . . He certainly was at the computer a lot. It must have been something steamy because every time I approached him he would do something to hide the screen”

I would point to something, sand, and you would repeat it—sand.—Sea—and then you: sea.—Sky…sky.—Family…family. Airplane…airplane…America…(slight beat) And I showed you in which direction. And you said, where? And I held you up high on my shoulders… and I pointed. (Hold for a beat. Blackout)

My family worked damn hard to make this country the place it is. And if you came here to do the same, I will personally roll out the red carpet for you . . . . But if you’ve come here . . . . To take from us. Pick all the good things this country has to offer and give nothing back . . .. Then I don’t think you’re making a contribution, not at all.

“I have rights, I do have rights.”

“You hate everything that this country stands for.”

No. No, this isn’t normal. I have to tell you, Khaled, none of this is normal. Right about now I would place you a few feet outside of that category. . . . I am frankly amazed at just how abnormal everything is in your apartment. I have been growing alarmed by what we have been finding. More: I’m getting that uncomfortable feeling that there’s more to you than meets the eye and not in a good way. I wouldn’t be surprised if we were to turn on that computer and find plans for tunneling under the White House

“New information about a person suddenly makes you see that person in a different light.”

“You’re a Muslim and an Arab. Those are the bad-asses currently making life a living hell and so we’ll gravitate you and your ilk”

Yesterday the Irish and the Poles, today it’s you. Tomorrow it might be the Dutch”

One more thing: at no time should you think this is an ethnic thing. Your ethnicity has nothing to do with it other than the fact that your background happens to be the place where most of this crap is coming from. So naturally the focus is going to be on you. It’s not profiling, it’s deduction.

“I personally hate this, you know that” he says. “I hate it when I have to beat the shit out of someone because then by an act of willful horror, whose effect on my soul I can only imagine, I have to shut out everything good about me to do my job to defend and protect.”

BETH. (Interrupting.) Just everything. He never seemed to come clean about anything. Always keeping things close to his chest, like he had another life going on. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was involved. Though I can’t imagine he was high up in whatever struc­ture they have. I could admire him if he was. But he’s too weak for that. More like a wannabe. Like someone who would be quite will­ing to take instructions, if you know what I mean.

CARL. I don’t; can you explain that?

BETH. Like he knew his life was for shit and something like this would give it meaning. He had that writerly thing of never feeling solid enough about anything. Of being woozy about most things. Of course when you imagine you’re in love with someone, all their faults feel like unique traits that give them character. It’s disgusting how love can dumb you down. Anyway, what else do you want to know? So like I said, it would just make sense. He never would tell me what he was working on or what he did when he went out. He just shut me out after a while. Could you turn around, please. (Beth has finished drying her hair and now selects a dress from the closet. She will proceed to put it on. Carl turns around.) And then there was that quarrel we had soon after the attacks.

CARL. What quarrel would that be?

BETH. I almost flipped out because I thought he was actually


KHALED. That’s enough, stop, stop, this is bullshit. BARTLETT. (Consulting notebook.) That’s the word she used: “gloating.”

KHALED. I never “gloated,” that’s insane.

BARTLETT. (Consulting notebook.) She went on to say that she

felt you were almost ‑

BARTLETT/BETH. Defending them.

BETH. Praising them even.

KHALED. That’s a lie.

CARL. Are you sure about that?

BETH. It sure sounded like that to me.

KHALED. She’s twisting everything.

BETH. (To Carl.) I don’t think that would be an exaggeration.

KHALED. (To Beth.) That’s not what I meant.

BETH. (To Khaled.) That’s how it sounded.

“We’re trying to get direct feedback from the public. Especially from our target audience.”

When first I come to this country—I not know how to speak. How…even to say anything. […] I say, I must learn language that is everywhere. Language that has fallen on our heads and made us like—like children again. What is this power? […] I want to write. I want to write a book. In English. […] And one day, I say […] I might even teach it… I will teach language back. I will make them speak their own language differently. I will have them speak words they never spoke before. I will make them like children too, speaking words over and over to make sure they understand it. And soon my language will also fall on their heads. Like theirs falls on ours. Exploding in our brains ’til we can’t even dream in peace. (Slight beat.) And so they sent me … They send me. (Asfoor draws closer to Khaled. Khaled does not look at him.) And now … my tongue … it wants to rise. Soar. As it used to. It wants to take off in this new language and conjure up brilliant words. It wants to do things in English that seemed so impossible for so long. I can help you find your voice too … You’re stuck. I know you are. You’ve lost your way. I can feel it. I can help. Most of all … above all else, Khaled … I know how to inspire … I know how to inspire. (Beat. Blackout.)

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