Coming of age as a young woman is difficult enough, it's made even more daunting when the identities swimming inside seem to constantly collide and contradict one another. With Eh Dah? Questions for My Father, writer and performer Aya Aziz confronts the challenge of reconciling her Egyptian and American identities in the open-hearted and vibrant autobiographical solo show now running as part of the New York Musical Festival.
It’s impossible to overstate physical and vocal virtuosity of Aziz. Under the steady hand of director Corrine Proctor, Aziz conjures and embodies the people and locales of her childhood with a Puck-like sense of mischief. Aziz has warm, searching eyes that radiate vulnerability, anger, and openness. She is a sponge that absorbs the identities and experiences of those around her, whether it is the plight of a starving girl her age on the streets of Cairo or 50 Cent lyrics sung by a cute older boy with only seven fingers. She elastically molds her body and voice into everyone from the stern religious Aunt Hadia, to her mother’s communist friend Suzanne, and most compellingly, her cousins Abdu and Dalia. Abdu is all street smart, masculine swagger, while at the same time suggesting maybe Aya and her father “gotta balance the haram with the little halal or something.” With slumped shoulders, Dalia is the good girl Muslim valedictorian who eschews Aya’s emotional identity crises, preferring to think of life as “that annoyingly beautiful, invigorating math” while secretly writing sci-fi horror stories about “Human fungal corpses.”
It feels especially vital that Aziz presents her Muslim heritage with such layered humanity, in a media world where Muslims are narrowly portrayed as perpetrators or victims of terrorism, it’s revelatory that Aya is captivated by stories from the figures of the Qu’ran at summer camp—even if her teacher is horrified when she wonders whether or not her lesbian drama teacher would be able to pass on Islam to her children without a man. “Eh dah?”—“what is this?” she asks her cousins as she devours every bit of information about Islam she can. Watching a young American girl empowered by stories of not only the Prophet but his enterprising wives is a stirring point that Islam, like Aya, contains multitudes.
“How did so many people fit into a single nobody?” Aya wonders halfway through her journey as her identities begin to overwhelm her. With Eh Dah? Aziz marks herself as a formidable creative force.
- Lisa Huberman