By Raymond P. Diamond

The Gaza Monologues, co-directed by Fateh Azzam and Nathaniel Warren-White, captivated audiences at afternoon and evening sold-out houses at SPACE Gallery in Portland in February. The play was first written and performed in 2010 by a group of teenagers living through a previous era of wartime in Palestine, during which approximately 100,000 people were displaced and over 1,000 people were killed. 

“I started having terrifying dreams. All night I have a conflict within myself, between desire to sleep and fear of nightmares. … Sleep became a monster hiding behind my eyelids. I stay like that till morning; I don’t know when I slept and when I woke up.”

“I dream of living one day in freedom, and I don’t think that’s a big dream, but it’s hard to come true. … I’m tired of thinking, but I can’t stop it. But we have to pray that God will provide … and to you folks, goodbye.” 

– excerpts from The Gaza Monologues

The Gaza Monologues tells stories of horrors, tragedies, and martyrdom. The dialogue captures the day-to-day experiences of life during wartime, as well as the dreams shared by the young people who wrote these monologues over a decade ago. Musicians played timbao, a Brazilian drum; clarinet; and oud, a Middle Eastern stringed instrument resembling a lute. Immediately above the stage, a slideshow projected images from Palestine throughout the show. The images showed a battered country, with children and adults near the rubble of crumbled buildings, and other devastating images taken during three separate time periods: the 1948 Palestine conflict, 2010, and the months since October 7, when the current war began.

The cast included seven high school and college students, all passionate about telling the stories of lives caught in current and past conflicts within Gaza. Nathaniel Warren-White, one of the co-directors, raved about the cast, which includes students from Tunisia, Somalia, Iraq, and Sri Lanka, and several who grew up in Maine with different backgrounds like Italian and Jewish American. “We’ve got a wonderful cadre of kids from different backgrounds, actors from different backgrounds, bringing together their own feelings and their own life experiences to this moment … to me [this is why] doing one of these is so important in Maine.” 

Bowdoin Sophomore Rithmaka Karunadhara and other cast members during a final rehearsal.

“… dreams, security, hope, and the future, are all words that lose their meaning in a city that kills the smallest dream possible.” – excerpt from The Gaza Monologues

Initially, Warren-White and Azzam had planned on performing this rendition of The Gaza Monologues on November 29, 2023, in accordance with the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. However, they were rejected from many venues. “We couldn’t find a venue that was willing to let us stage the reading so we decided to postpone it and put together a full production instead,” said Warren-White. Their search led them to Casco Bay High School and Bowdoin College where they had connections with faculty. “We were very fortunate to find such talented, passionate young actors who wanted to be a part of the process,” he said. 

In the end, they were delighted when SPACE Gallery said they were willing to stage the production, and in a matter of days, the first performance had sold out and a second show needed to be added. That second show also sold out. 

Co-director Fateh Azzam

Co-director Fateh Azzam said, “Some of it is quite moving and horrendous –  frightening, in fact. … [The students] are trying to create an environment that might help an audience understand what it might be like to be a teenager in Gaza … under the bombs.” 

The response they received indicates that the directors, actors, and musicians reached the hearts of their audience. One audience member said the actors brought the human experience to the audience, and “let you feel the actual feelings of these young people in Gaza that happened. … And now, what month are we in?” 

Another audience member said, “I want to do everything that I can to support Palestine. There’s a lot of history there. … I [do not] understand how anyone can be disconnected from this.”

Co-director Nat Warren-White