In the winter of 2016, the Volkstheater Wien decided to cancel the first season of Homohalal for fear of fanning the flames of hatred at the height of the refugee crisis. Two years later, Ibrahim Amir’s sinister comedy was finally staged in Vienna at a swimming pool in Werk X.
It is 2037. A group of ex-activists meets around a swimming pool in Vienna. They haven’t seen each other in many years. One of their old comrades, Abdul (Arthur Werner), has committed suicide, and they have come together to celebrate his funeral. Some of the women are visibly anxious, and start drinking champagne out of the bottle, which bursts in their faces. Barbara (Yodit Tarikwa), the officiating imam, drops the urn containing Abdul’s ashes, and trips as she runs behind it across the stage. Unlike the people around me, I don’t laugh at any of this. I don’t know whether it’s because I don’t find it funny or because there is something else weighing upon the scene.
Little by little, the past starts to emerge out of this thin layer of jokes and physical comedy. On the back of the stage, “Votivkirche” is written on the wall, and a few rugs are spread on the floor. Standing in front of a camera, the actors play scenes from the past, which take place during the Refugee Protest Camp in 2013. We see their faces projected on the wall, and hear their voices amplified by microphones. Everything they say and do looks silly or cheesy. Fun is made of the need for attention of the Austrian activists, as well as of the refugees’ attempts to hit on the locals.
Saïd (also Arthur Werner) and Barbara had a relationship for three years, which ended when he proposed. Barbara did not want to perpetuate patriarchal institutions like marriage, so Saïd was deported back to Irak, where he suffered imprisonment and torture. Albertina (Constanze Passin) got married to Abdul, but it didn’t work for them in the end either, not because of ‘cultural differences’ —as Barbara would have it—, but simply because ‘he was an asshole’. Finally, Abdul himself appears on stage, armed with petrol and a lighter to take revenge. He felt betrayed by the group when he was the only one arrested by the police during an anti-fascist demonstration. He is then shot by Ghazala (Stephanie K. Schreiter), Saïd’s current wife, who ends the play with a speech in defence of the status quo and shouting the motto ‘Security is Freedom’.
Homohalal poses the question: Are there limits to multiculturalism? Is defending the rights of immigrants the same as defending everything they say or do as an expression of their culture? What happens when their actions and beliefs encroach upon the rights of others, like women or LGBT people? In this dystopian vision, refugees do not only make homophobic comments or are violent towards women: once they have been naturalised, some of them even embrace the same right-wing rhetoric which was hostile to them upon their arrival. Faced with this bleak prospect, we are challenged to find new ways of integrating universal rights and cultural differences to build a truly inclusive and egalitarian society.
Summary: A dark comedy with lots of physical humour and not without some silliness, which exploits and deconstructs the stereotypes of both the native and the naturalised Austrians.
von Ibrahim Amir
Inszenierung: Ali M. Abdullah
Bühne und Kostüm: Renato Uz
Dramaturgie: Hannah Lioba Egenolf
Licht: Alexander Suchy
Fotocredit: © Yasmina Hadda