The Who & The What
by Ayad Akhtar
directed by Kimberly Senior
originally produced at La Jolla Playhouse,
San Diego, CA.
February 11, 2014
through March 9, 2014
Raised in a conservative Muslim family in Atlanta, the outspoken and brilliant Zarina routinely clashes with her traditional father and sister. Zarina’s one outlet – her recently completed book about women and Islam – threatens to tear her family apart for good. With humor and ferocity, Ayad Akhtar’s The Who & The What examines the giant chasm between our traditions and our contemporary lives.
Only two years (and two plays) into his career as a playwright, Ayad Akhtar is a major new voice in American theatre. The reason for Ayad’s success is due not just to his strong sense of craft and theatricality – though he has an abundance of both – but also the stories he wants to tell. A few years ago, Ayad took a deep breath and asked himself what he was running from as an artist; what he had been continuously (if unconsciously) trying to avoid writing about. The answer was inside himself: as a Muslim-American writer of Pakistani descent, Ayad had been running from Muslim-American stories. With that realization, a whole host of stories unfolded themselves to Ayad, including his novel American Dervish and his plays The Invisible Hand, Disgraced and, now, The Who & The What.
Like Ayad’s other plays, The Who & The What places its finger on a nerve that is sure to inspire a lot of conversation and debate in the theatre and well after. When we first encountered the play – as a very first draft – we programmed it into our DNA New Work Series, a program designed to grant development opportunities to plays in the earliest stages of their gestation. As impressed as we were by the work, we were equally excited by the discussions it engendered amongst the passionate audience that attended the reading. The Who & The What will provoke many such passionate conversations, examining, as it does, family and gender politics within the contrasts between the sacred and the secular; the past and the present; rituals and realities. Its themes and conflicts are present everywhere you look, regardless of one’s religion, ethnicity or nationality.
La Jolla Playhouse is pleased to be a recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award for the world premiere play, The Who & The What, by Pulitzer-Prize winner Ayad Akhtar. This grant will be utilized for one extra week of rehearsal time, giving the piece and its creative team additional time and resources to help make it a huge success at the Playhouse and during its second production at Lincoln Center’s LCT3 and beyond.
Director: Kimberly Senior
Set Design: Jack Magaw
Lighting Design: Jaymi Lee Smith
Sound Design: Jill BC Du Boff
Costume Design: Elisa Benzoni
Dramaturg: Gabriel Greene