Arda Aghazarian for Jerusalem Story


Arda Aghazarian for Jerusalem Story

Blog Post

“The World Is a Stage”: Challenging Reality through Art

“The World Is a Stage”: That’s the title of a recent satirical musical play, produced by the Jerusalem Art House, in cooperation with the Palestinian National Theatre—El-Hakawati. The play was performed at El-Hakawati Theatre in East Jerusalem on June 1, 2, and 22, 2024 (and is coming up again on July 13) to sold-out crowds.

With humor and music, the short play (less than an hour long) portrayed the courtship, marriage, and divorce of a young couple. Despite the subject matter, it was a welcome breather for the appreciative Jerusalem audience, which has been living in an abnormally charged and stressful political environment for the past nine months.

The Palestinian National Theatre El-Hakawati

The first (and until the early 1990s, the only) Palestinian public theater and cultural center in Jerusalem

A Play within a Play

The two lead actors, Marwan Awad and Yasmine Hammar (who also go by their real names in the play), delivered realistic and funny performances. Their exchanges at the beginning of their relationship are full of easygoing, fake promises, but once married, their frustrations build, and ultimately they separate, heartbroken. They speak in the local Jerusalem dialect; live music is played between their conversations. The two talented musicians Raed Said and Wael Abu Saloum provide music and commentary about the behaviors of the couple throughout the play: They remark on how the relationship might develop and discuss some of the repercussions of the couple’s decisions. The actors themselves periodically snap out of character to comment on things they had just said or done, which adds to the humor.

The audience was invited to participate in the production. At some point during the play, the audience joined musician Wael in singing the familiar romantic “Ahwak,” the song associated with beloved, iconic Egyptian singer Abdel Halim Hafez, who died tragically at the age of 47 on March 30, 1977.

The audience joins Wael Abu Saloum in singing during “The World Is a Stage,” El-Hakawati Theatre, East Jerusalem June 2, 2024.


Arda Aghazarian for Jerusalem Story

“The World Is a Stage” actors and musicians get a standing ovation, El-Hakawati Theatre, East Jerusalem, June 2, 2024.

Raed Said, Wael Abu Saloum, Marwan Awad, and Yasmine Hammar enjoy a standing ovation for their fine performances in “The World Is a Stage,” El-Hakawati Theatre, East Jerusalem, June 2, 2024.


Arda Aghazarian for Jerusalem Story

The play demonstrates some of the societal expectations that dictate the individuals’ personal choices. For example, Yasmine gets married because she simply must get out of her family home; one senses that whom she marries is a secondary consideration. Marwan, too, must please his family by taking the marriage route and becoming a father. Rather than be honest with one another about who they really are and what they want from life, they approach one another as though checking off an item on a to-do list—they get married and use one another simply to address societal expectations.

The two musicians offer differing viewpoints on the relationship: Wael seems to skim the surface and express the conventional view that the couple could work things out. Meanwhile, Raed presents as his more blunt, critical, and difficult counterpart: From the very early scenes, he is cynical and generally annoyed, convinced from the get-go that the relationship can never work so long as the characters adhere to their ascribed societal roles and expectations.

Many of the problems faced by couples, the play suggests, arise from societal pressure, which is evident from the very early days of dating. Both lead characters seem to have unrealistic expectations that they hide from one another—and even from themselves. They play the parts expected of them—Marwan tries to conceal the extent to which his family dominates him; Yasmine doesn’t acknowledge that her primary concern is to live anywhere but in her family home. Even on their wedding day, they look like completely different people than the ones who had been courting. Even to one another, they seem unable to let their guard down and reveal who they really are and how they want to live their lives.

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The characters in “The World Is a Stage” hide their true selves, June 2, 2024.

Marwan and Yasmine marry, still not revealing themselves as they really are, not even to one another (symbolized by their elaborate wigs), “The World Is a Stage,” El-Hakawati Theatre, East Jerusalem, June 2, 2024.


Arda Aghazarian for Jerusalem Story

As writer and director, Raed chose not to provide a solution to these types of relationship and marital problems. Rather, he presented a critical observation of how individuals play out their societally ascribed roles, such as in pretending to be agreeable and accommodating—all with the goal of getting married. The couple see that they had aimed to wed, not so much for themselves, but to remove the societal pressure and oblige their intrusive families.

Meanwhile, being actually “married” would entail unexpected sets of chores and responsibilities—let alone honest communication—that would take too much of a toll on them. Ultimately the parties become disappointed by their partners and lifestyle and feel hopeless about their ability to improve their marriage.

Both lead characters seem to have unrealistic expectations that they hide from one another—and even from themselves.

Appreciative audience at the play “The World Is a Stage,” East Jerusalem, June 2, 2024

The audience enjoys the fine performances in “The World Is a Stage” at El-Hakawati Theatre, East Jerusalem, June 2, 2024.


Arda Aghazarian for Jerusalem Story

“Cannot Separate Art from the Street”

Born on December 9, 1979, playwright and director Raed has an ongoing love relationship with art and theater: “Art is my life,” he says simply, and all his work is centered around Jerusalem. He has traveled and performed internationally and claims that he “memorized most of the neighborhoods in various European cities, including in Spain, Sweden, and Ireland.”1 Essentially, however, he remains “the son of Bab Hutta,” the neighborhood in the Old City that he insists is the most beautiful of them all. “It was Jerusalem that made me who I am,” he reflects.

“It was Jerusalem that made me who I am.”

Raed Said, writer and director, “The World Is a Stage”

He plays several instruments. His first percussion performances began when he was not yet 15 years old: “My parents would think I was sound asleep. Meanwhile, I was drumming at roof parties and weddings in Jerusalem. These were paid gigs. I was certainly the richest among my classmates as a kid!” Before turning 16, he immersed himself in theater and was especially influenced by the early performances of Al Kasaba Theatre and Cinematheque in Ramallah: “I fell in love with the light and sound of theater . . . Theater is a different world: It demonstrates pure and raw talent, and I was mesmerized by it. I wanted to learn it.”

An Ongoing Love Affair

As far as Raed is concerned, “You cannot separate art from the street. Art is the street.” Ten days before the opening night, Raed shared that his big dream is “to turn Jerusalem from a stressful place to an artistic city,” he said.

Raed started the Jerusalem Art House initiative about three years ago, during the coronavirus pandemic, in the Bab Hutta neighborhood. The initiative is mostly promoted online and is open for those (especially Palestinians in Jerusalem) who are interested. One of the ideas of this project was the show “Looking for a Talent,” where he would roam the streets of the Old City, looking for local talent and recording his interactions with random people. In total, he recorded up to six episodes, by the end of which his initial belief was proven beyond doubt—which is that “Jerusalem is full of amazing talent . . . The porter of Musrara has brilliant circus skills, and the famous kebab shop owner of Khan al-Zeit is actually a remarkable oud player.”

Raed insists that art cannot be boxed in a theater room or locked in a person: It is a living thing that breathes despite everything. In the local context, he brings examples from the Old City, demonstrating that the people in the city have a myriad of artistic and musical talents that casual observers can never discern.

The role of Palestinian artists is crucial in identifying obstacles to authentic self-expression, as “The World Is a Stage” does, and in nurturing hope that change is possible despite relentlessly challenging situations.

The play is set to be performed again at El-Hawakati National Theatre in Jerusalem on July 13, 2024.

[Raed Said’s] big dream is “to turn Jerusalem from a stressful place to an artistic city.”



Raed Said, interview by the author, May 21, 2024. All subsequent quotes from Said are from this interview.

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