By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
Harun (Stage 4, Academy at King Edward)
The double-optic of the immigrant kid — torn between cultures and generations, loyalty to family and the urgent momentum of a new life — is the complexity that Makram Ayache takes on in Harun.
The title character (played by the playwright himself, is gay and Arab, a university student with a Canadian name, Aaron. And he’s in crisis. He’s haunted by the voice of his mother (the riveting Amena Shehab) telling her story in Arabic; he translates. At night he’s visited by an inscrutable Angel, his mother transformed, with the instruction to listen. One day he can’t wake up.
Aaron’s boyfriend is terrified. His friends, arranging a college protest against anti-immigrant white supremacist racism, are concerned he’s going mad. Is he? Aaron relives, in flashback, terrible scenes with his mother, marginalized by quieter forms of Canadian racism — “speak English!” — in her new “multi-cultural” country. He’s paralyzed by escalating guilt and self-loathing: if he hadn’t been gay, his mother wouldn’t have gone back to Lebanon…. He conjures scenes of hate and destruction there, “with everyone blaming everyone else,” a counterpoint to more passive-aggressive ethnic stereotyping here in the “enlightened” new world.
There’s a lot going on in Harun; it’s crammed to overflowing with thoughts and memories, conflicts, arguments, reflections, and the characters having them. Probably too much of everything for a one-act play. But in this impressive playwriting debut, maybe that sheer overload is part of the point. It certainly gives Mieko Ouchi’s production, acted with conviction and set forth with theatrical pizzazz, an explosive quality.
And hey, what a rare thing it is to find, at the Fringe, a new play with the ambition and the chutzpah to be too big for itself. Harun sets conflict in motion, onstage, in scenes between people. It isn’t just reported; it happens. It’s even rounded by a hopeful vision of progress, a new version of what it means to be Canadian.
Ayache is a talent to watch. He’s going places.