By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
A year of dizzying optics. The walls have both closed in on us — an audience of one wrapped in our own pandemic carapaces in front of our own personal screens — and they’ve blown wide open. Onto theatrical vistas on the big wide world, across not just time zones, but cultures, mythologies, the well-fortified frontiers of past, present, and future.
Here’s a wildly ambitious new play that captures something of that sense of being flung out of our time-honoured flight paths into a world that’s both acutely of the moment and ancient. The Hooves That Belonged To The Deer is by Makram Ayache, an actor/ playwright/ theatre-maker (and U of A theatre school grad) Edmonton audiences know from the 2018 Fringe premiere of his play Harun. More recently we’ve seen his work in contributions, both on- and offstage, to Azimuth Theatre’s All That Binds Us last fall, a meditation on Canadian multiculturalism and its self-deluding complacency by a diverse gallery of “outsiders.”
The Hooves That Belonged To The Deer exists in its debut incarnation, till the end of the month, as a two-act podcast (directed by Peter Hinton) that’s part of The Alberta Queer Calendar Project.
Ambitious? Ayache evidently has no fear of complication and scale. In Harun, the title character, a gay Arab first-generation Canadian immigrant, is caught between generational guilt, cultures, languages, ethnicities, and an intricate nexus of arguments and conflicts, an experience of both overt brutality in his home country and passive-aggressive exclusion in his new.
There is nothing pinched or cautious about the theatrical vision at play in The Hooves That Belonged To The Deer. It has a kind of cosmic expansiveness in its vistas, its theatricality, and its counterpoint of scenes. In a small conservative Christian prairie town, supremely white in palette and power structure, a young Arab Muslim boy, the quintessential outsider, enters the sin/salvation/damnation orbit of a Christian pastor who holds out the temptation of “belonging.” At the same moment, Izzy’s world acquires a fraught, risky erotic dimension; he’s gradually discovering his queerness.
In alternating scenes, “beyond space and time,” we fly into a disorienting, mapless desert, beyond the prairie horizon, into the vision of an ancient Edenic paradise in “the middle of the middle of the middle of the Middle East,” where the tree of forbidden knowledge grows under guard, but the view from the top is irresistible.
It amounts to a cosmology, a new origin mythology no less. And the play, I think, is about how competing mythologies collide, run parallel, and play out, in a love story infiltrated by tradition, and by the toxic inheritance of white colonization.
Based on this first listen, this is a challenging piece, of grand scope, where the five words “I’ll give it some thought” (words to live by in theatre, as I well know) have a kind of fateful momentum. The characters transform into resonating alternative versions of themselves. Everything about Ayache’s vision of inheritance, love, fate, salvation, the divine, the erotic and the religious, and what it means to be an outcast, is large. There’s a contemporary reverb to the play’s provocations. The title and the sound of hooves are a track that takes us back, past whiteness, onto the land, and into the realm of the Indigenous knowledge-keepers.
I’ll be thinking about this more. Meanwhile, one of the thrills of the podcast, artfully assembled by Hinton and sound editor Chris Pereira, is imagining, and not knowing, how on earth the play will be staged, when the fates (and science and the benighted fringes of our fellow citizenry) allow our return to live theatre-going. We can find out: the hope, according to the playwright, is for joint stage premieres in Edmonton and Toronto in 2022.
The Hooves The Belonged To The Deer runs in podcast form as part of The Alberta Queer Calendar Project through March 31.