Forced to choose between her identity, her family, and her precious faith, there's no word to describe Hanna Jokhoe in her native Guyanese dialect. Hatikvah Productions presents the world premiere of No Word in Guyanese for Me by Wendy Graf, starring Ovation award-winner Anna Khaja and directed by Anita Khanzadian. The five-week run takes place at the Sidewalk Studio Theatre in Burbank, May 14 through June 12.
Poetic and lyrical, Wendy Graf's newest play explores religious and sexual identity, parental bonds, and clashing cultures in the story of young, gay immigrant who must reconcile her sexuality with the teachings of her Muslim faith. We experience Hanna's childhood in the small Caribbean nation of Guyana on the north coast of South America, and travel with her family to Queens, N.Y. to join a growing enclave of Guyanese émigrés. Deeply religious, Hanna comes of age in pre- and post-9/11 New York, where she finds herself tested by faith and family. From a disastrous arranged marriage to her sexual awakening, Hanna finally discovers that there can be someone for whom she is enough.
"It's a plea for understanding and tolerance at a time of fear and religious, moral, and political polarization," explains Graf. "This is the story of a young girl who, in the end, is forced to give her family a choice: accept her as a gay Muslim, or lose her forever."
Graf's previous play, Behind the Gates, which was seen in an acclaimed production at the Lee Strasberg Theatre last year, dealt with similar themes from a different perspective. "Hanna's journey is the flip side of Bethany's, who [in that play] found herself struggling with the values of ultra-Orthodox Judaism," Graf continues. "There's no room for homosexuality in Islam. In some sects, it's punishable by death."
Concludes Khanzadian, "It's heartbreaking. In every religion there seems to be an element of 'my book, my way.'
No Word in Guyanese for Me stars Anna Khaja,winner of the 2009-10 Ovation award for Lead Actress in a Play for her performance in Shaheed: The Dream and Death of Benazir Bhutto (also nominated for Best Production of the year) which she wrote, performed and co-produced. Anna played the "The Academic" in the U.S. premiere of David Hare's Stuff Happens at the Mark Taper Forum (Ovation nomination). Her portrayal was so controversial that the Los Angeles Times published a special Opinion piece solely about her character and performance. In 2007, she originated the role of the Iraqi mother "Nerjas" in the US premiere of Canadian playwright Judith Thompson's Palace Of The End, delivering a 45-minute monologue; for this performance she received the LA Weekly Award for Solo Performance and was nominated for a Lead Actress Ovation Award. She has performed at many Los Angeles theaters, including Open Fist, NoHo Arts Center and The Fountain, and has received outstanding notices from and features in the Los Angeles Times, Back Stage West, Back Stage East, NYTheater.com, WNYC Radio, Hollywood Reporter, LA Weekly, Audrey Magazine and Variety. Last winter Anna performed in Around The World In 80 Days at the historic Cleveland Playhouse. Anna first gained recognition on the big screen in King of California as the unyielding but vulnerable cop who faces off with - and eventually is seduced by - Michael Douglas. In 2009, Anna played an eclectic mix of roles in four feature films alongside Jim Carrey and Bradley Cooper (Yes Man), Chris McDonald (Reunion), JK Simmons and Alexis Bledel (Post Grad) and Milo Ventimiglia (Order of Chaos). Television appearances include The Closer, Flash Forward, House M.D., Private Practice, Numb3rs, Sleeper Cell, Dirt and Weeds.
Wendy Graf is a multi award-winning playwright whose most recent plays include Behind the Gates; Lessons (directed by Gordon Davidson); Leipzig (L.A. Drama Critics Circle nomination, Back Stage Garland Award, Dorothy Silver Playwriting Competition finalist); The Book of Esther (San Fernando Valley Artistic Director Award nomination for Best Play, ASK Theater Projects Grant Award); In the Time of Elephants; A Hollywood Fable; L.A. Tales; The Cross and the Saber; and Shanghai Ghetto. An evening of one-acts collected under the title Zeno's Paradox includes Lester and Schloss (2008 Ellen Idelson Award winner, 2008 Arts and Letters Prize for Drama finalist, 2009 International Jewish Short Play Competition) and Reports of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated (EST-LA's Winterfest 2009; 2010 FirstStage One Act winner). Ms. Graf is a member of Theatre West, Ensemble Studio Theatre Writing Unit, and Actors Studio Playwrights/Directors Unit.