Arab-American Theater By Najjar, Michael Malek
Arab-American Theater is a general term that describes plays and performances by Americans of Arab descent written in Arabic and/or English from the early twentieth century onward. This modernist movement breaks from Arab performance modes such as storytelling (hakawati), improvised poetry (zajal), and traditional dance forms (raqs-al-sharqi). These playwrights have adopted modern playwriting styles that combine Arab and Arab-American subject matter with American playwriting forms such as monodramas and one-act and two-act Realist plays. Although these plays are not generally experimental in nature, there is no doubt that the early Arab American playwrights Kahlil Gibran, Ameen Fares Rihani, and Mikhail Naimy all contributed to what is known as al-Nahda, or the modern Arabic literary renaissance, which had a lasting impact on Arab arts and letters throughout the twentieth century. These plays are also forms of resistance literature that serve as protest against colonialist and neo-imperialist actions undertaken by foreign powers against Arab nations. Lastly, these plays are forms of what sociologists Omi and Winant call ‘cultural nationalism’—that is, a community focus on cultural elements that define collective identity and ‘peoplehood.’ Arab-American Theater has contributed to a re-articulation of Arab American identity that emphasizes hybridity and dual allegiances.