Theater Review: The Women Behind the Veil

Michael Hogan

” . . . a magnificent demonstration of the power of theatre to change the terms of public debate. The monologues make visible – live, in real time, in close physical proximity – women, emotions, and beliefs that are hidden from the non-Muslim world.”

– Thomas Sellar, Editor, Theater

Eve Ensler’s award winning “The Vagina Monologues” has stood as a powerfully moving testament to modern womanhood since it hit the stage in 1996. After performing in a production of the play Dutch actress/writer/director Adelheid Roosen decided to explore many of the same subjects, only through the eyes of Muslim women. Out of this came “The Veiled Monologues”, a portrait of love and relationships from an often-unexamined populace.

Like Ensler before her, Roosen interviewed women, all of Muslim upbringing, and formed their words into a series of startlingly real and intimate monologues, revealing the depths of the women beneath the veil. Using the testimonies of women who were born and raised in Islamic communities throughout the world but were living in the Netherlands at the time. What results is a peek into the details of the feelings and relationships of an important and, many times, misunderstood community of women.

Roosen weaves live music, dance, and film into the series of monologues, twisting the traditional with the technological and combining both and an ancient and modern world. Three Turkish actresses, all of Muslim descent, perform the monologues while live music is played on the saz, a stringed instrument from Turkey.

“The Veiled Monologues” run from Oct 16-21, featuring actresses Oya Campelle, Nazmiye Oral, and Meral Polat, marks the New England premier of the show that, in 2003, was performed before the Dutch parliament in the midst of debates revolving around the constitutional rights of religious minorities in that country. The play has also been performed throughout Europe and the Middle East as well as at festivals in Egypt and Jordan.

Coinciding with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, “The Veiled Monologues” delves into the intimacies of a culture that has become vilified by many since the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001. We are all human despite whatever religious differences we may have, we all bleed the same crimson blood, we all cry the same salted tears. Roosen’s play works to remove the veil and reveal the soul beneath, breaking through whatever useless barriers ignorance and intolerance build between us. In the quickly changing melting pot of modern America the need to understand the values and cultures of others is a vital one.

As part of “The Veiled Monologues” run at the American Repertory Theater a number of symposia will be offered after certain performances by such groups as the Harvard College Women’s Center, the Harvard University Center for Middle Eastern Studies, and the Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. These symposia will serve as an opportunity for discussion on the differences and similarities of women worldwide.

“The Veiled Monologues” will run at the Zero Arrow Theater on the corner of Arrow Street and Massachusetts Avenue in Harvard Square from Oct 16-21 as part of the American Repertory Theater’s 2001-2008 schedule which will include such varied performances as “Donnie Darko”, “Copenhagen”, and “Julius Ceasar”, among others.

For tickets or more information on “The Veiled Monologues” or any other ART productions visit the American Repertory Theaters website at