Going into a show titled "Under the Veil: Being Muslim (and Non-Muslim) In America, Since 9/11" most of the audience probably expected to receive a powerful message, especially since the play was held only a few days after the 10th anniversary of the tragedy.
As its title suggests, the play featured various perspectives – mostly from residents of New York City – on how our country has changed since Sept. 11, 2001. The director, Cheryl Paley, was inspired to start "Under the Veil" when she returned from the Peace Corps in 2003. She was traveling across the globe when the events of 9/11 occurred, and was heartbroken at the terrible prejudice being directed towards Muslims in both the city and country when she returned.
The play was well developed and kept the audience's absolute attention, even during the intermission. Accompanied by vocalist Davin McLeod and percussionist David Kanter, the play oscillated from funny to serious while remaining thought provoking and moving.
Ashley Williams, Joseph Reese, Crystal Quallo, Felipe Aguilar and Geneseo alumnus Chuk Obasi played many different roles through various scenes illustrating the perspectives of people in and around New York City post-9/11. One second the audience members in the Alice Austin Theatre were playing the role of the audience of a talk show in which the two hosts explain how to identify a terrorist, and the next they witnessed an exchange between a Muslim teenager and an older black man catching a taxi.
The show didn't end with the typical curtain, bow and applause process. Instead, the director, actors, and musicians held a Q-and-A session during which any member of the audience could ask any of them anything about the play.
Questions at the Friday night show included: "Have the actors felt a change after performing this?" – which was met with a resounding yes; "What was the audience's reaction in [New York City]?" – which provoked much heated debate between audience members; and "What was the process like for the actors to ‘become' Muslim?" – The actors actually did extensive research and interviews with members of the Muslim community to get into character.
During the Q-and-A session, Paley informed the audience that the point of the play wasn't to have a "Kumbaya moment," although it could appear that way at first glance. Paley's intent was, as she said, "To help you open your eyes to your own reactions." We cannot help making initial judgments of those we encounter in everyday situations, she said, but we need to learn to notice our reactions and make a conscious decision to change them.
Another theme of the discussion was "Just Ask," a simple but challenging charge. When making reflexive assumptions about another person, people fail to comprehend the multiple dimensions of the multitude of stories which make up that person's being. A Muslim woman may be characterized by her hijab – the shawl used to cover her hair – but those judging her based on exclusively that fact fail to consider that she may in fact choose to wear it as a sign of pride just as a Christian may wear a crucifix as a necklace. This misunderstanding could be avoided by asking the woman about her religious motivations.
Unfortunately, "Under the Veil" is no longer available to most Geneseo students. Anyone who missed it on Sept. 16 or 17 should seek it out, as it really is a must-see. Not only were the members of the audience thoroughly entertained but they also learned a valuable lesson about how to more responsibly engage their fellow human beings.