ZEHRA FAZAL MAY end up offending people by how bluntly she tackles your stereotypes. That’s kind of the point. With her latest one-woman show, “Headscarf and the Angry Bitch,” the local actress combines her own experiences growing up in an Islamic household with the ones her friends and family had and, lo and behold: a personal comedy that examines what it’s like to be a modern Muslim woman, complete with vignettes and folk-rock songs that parody everything from sex to Ramadan.
Before the show’s last performances at the D.C. Arts Center Thursday and Saturday, Fazal talked about the parallels between her and the show’s main character, Zed Headscarf, and audience’s reactions.
» EXPRESS: How did you decide to focus on comedy?
» FAZAL: I have played a variety of roles both comedic and dramatic, but I tend to find myself most often cast in dramatic roles or vixen-type parts. … That’s part of the reason I conceived “Headscarf” — I wanted to challenge myself to do a pure comedy.
» EXPRESS: How did “Headscarf and the Angry Bitch” come together?
» FAZAL: [It] is a very personal piece — I would call it loosely autobiographical. Many of the stories in the piece, while exaggerated, have roots in reality — either in my life or in the lives of Muslim women I have known.
A few months [after touring with her previous show, "My Friend Hitler," last year], I had come up with some song parodies, and I thought of this character Zed Headscarf. She’d be so outrageous yet innocent and unaware how “inappropriate” she was being.
» EXPRESS: What parallels can you draw between Zed and yourself?
» FAZAL: Well, one major difference between Zed and me is that I never wore a hijab [head covering]. … It’s a powerful icon, though, for Muslim women, and you have to assume a stereotype before you can shatter it. I’d say Zed and I didn’t try to rebel on purpose — logic and a passionate desire to express the individual took us away from the mainstream, traditional Islamic/Pakistani culture.
» EXPRESS: What about Zed shocks audiences, and what is unsurprising to them?
» FAZAL: During its initial run, I’d get young American Muslim women like me coming up to me afterward saying such-and-such vignette “was so true — that happened to me exactly.” So I’d say the events of the play are unsurprising to people who have experienced it. I’d say the surprise comes for people who would not expect Muslims to behave a certain way.
Ultimately, though, it is a comedy meant to entertain people – not a political statement, though there’s a healthy dose of that in there, too.
» DCAC, 2438 18th St. NW; Fri., Oct. 16 & Sat. Oct. 17, 11 p.m.; $15; 202-462-0136. (Woodley Park-Adams Morgan)
Written by Express contributor Roxana Hadadi
Photo courtesy Graeme Shaw