The play “Dirty Paki Lingerie” has travelled from the U.S. to Canada, toured through Pakistan and now makes its West End debut this Friday at the Leicester Square Theatre. Introducing a compilation of stories, the play pushes boundaries from its content to its title.
The New-York based playwright and star of the solo woman performance show, Aizzah Fatima, speaks to Al Arabiya News ahead of the London premier to explain her motivations and hopes for the play.
“The one hour solo woman story is about sex, religion, and politics through the lens of six Pakistani-American women,” she explains.
The story has particularly received a successful reception in the U.S., especially in New York.
“Most people have multi-hyphenated identities. We’ve had Japanese-American, Jewish-American and Italian-Americans tell us how much they relate to the stories and see their own stories in the lives of these Pakistani-Muslim-American women.”
The airing of the characters dirty lingerie, is seamlessly performed by Aizzah, who convincingly plays multiple female personalities, intending to challenge stereotypes and overcome Pakistani cultural taboos about topics like female sexual desire.
“‘Terrorist No. 2’s girlfriend’ is an actual title of a character I once auditioned for,” she, explains as she is overjoyed to be able to move beyond the type of characters she is accustomed to being offered as a Pakistani Muslim actress.
This is the first play to be produced by the writer and actor, who currently lives in Manhattan.
Having been raised first in Saudi Arabia, then Mississippi, Aizzah has previously performed in theatre shows and independent films.
Set in post-9/11 America, the play captures a glimpse into the lives of Muslim women fusing their ethnic identities with their American lives. The women range from a 65-year-old mom who is desperately seeking a marriage partner for her daughter, and also includes a socially awkward young woman who explores online dating.
There is also a character called Selma, who represents a hijabi feminist at crossroads with her commitment to her visible Muslim identity and her desire to wear sexy lingerie. The seeming mismatch of what is expected culturally with what is reality, in relation to emotions and desires becomes a cornerstone of celebration in the unfolding stories.
It highlights that the Muslim Identity need not be incompatible with sexuality or modernity.
In an interview with the Wall Street journal, she stated “Several people have told me they have an issue with the word ‘lingerie’ in the title, and not so much the ‘dirty Paki.’“
“Conservative Muslim women in my social circles have suggested I change the title to ‘Dirty Paki Laundry’ to make it more politically correct.”
She responds that “The juxtaposition of ‘Paki’ and ‘lingerie’ grabs attention since Pakistani women may be stereotypically thought of as very conservative and not sexual,” she said. “In the play we learn that wearing the hijab doesn’t necessitate that one is conservative in all aspects of life.”
According to one theatre critic, the characters showcased in the play provide a much needed reflection on the: “pull between the immigrant culture and the new country, and the struggle of women everywhere to balance independence with the desire for lasting love.”
In another review by George Perry, Aizzah’s performance is praised for filling “the stage with her remarkable performance. She’s an intelligent performer and she respects her audience. The characters she brings to life have been described as “vivid and wide-ranging.”
“It is difficult to bring one character to life onstage. To command the stage, bring six characters to life, and make an audience sympathetic to all of them is something very special. Fatima does all this and more.”
As the show opens at the London-based venues – Leicester Square Theatre on the 24th of October and Rich Mix Theatre on the 25th, the playwright hopes that the interwoven stories of the different Pakistani Muslim American women resonates with people of every cultural background. “I have been performing it at Universities in the US where the show is followed by a discussion panel with students and people from the communities.”
“I hope to continue to do this work more within the Muslim communities to get a dialogue started around these issues. I am also working with award winning filmmaker Iman Zawahry on a feature film screenplay based on characters from the play.”