‘Tennis in Nablus’: Between Stereotypes and Illumination

ArabLit correspondent (and teacher, dancer, author) Jennifer Sears recently attended a reading of  Ismail Khalidi’s Tennis in Nablus in NYC: 

By Jennifer Sears

A reading of Ismail Khalidi’s play, “Tennis in Nablus” was well attended last Thursday, October 4, at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre.  As much of the promotion suggests, humor provides ballast in the work, which, set in Nablus in 1939, is predictably and necessarily tragic.   Sliding between stereotypes and illumination, as humor often does, comic relief comes primarily from the roles of Imperialist British forces who worry more about costumes for themed balls–they favor masquerades as Zulu war chieftains, Indian, belly dancers, and others they suppress–than the effects of their policies and ruling actions.

Witty, informative banter between two soldier/subjects (Irish and Indian) and the Palestinian prisoners recalls Hamlet’s famous wordplay with two gravediggers, whose mundane and concrete relationship with death provides the ultimate resistance to power as it does in this play: lack of fear.

Khalidi’s text moves quickly, starting with a narration setting up the historical context, unfamiliar to many in the US.  The play centers around the fate of Yusuf, a Palestinian Revolutionary fighter, and the disastrous relationships between the Palestinians, incoming Zionists fleeing World War II Europe, and the Imperialist forces controlling the region.  Family tensions form the emotional nucleus of the work.  Tariq, Yusuf’s entrepreneurial nephew, touts a naïve “rational nationalism” as he sells off Palestinian land to incoming settlers, drawing out the tensions between generations forced into conflicting decisions of loyalty and survival.  In this reading, Tariq’s crucial change of perspective happened perhaps too fast, the deeper emotions of the story losing weight to the dark humor of the humiliating tennis match.

A fully staged production of Ismail Khalidi’s “Tennis in Nablus” is slated for production at the Culture Project in Spring 2013.

Jennifer Sears teaches English for the New York City College of Technology (CUNY) and also teaches dance in the NYC area.  She can be found at: http://www.holisticbellydanceproject.com or http://www.orientalish.blogspot.com.