Mr. Zuabi had written the play in English to make the story and its characters more accessible to a New York audience. Though the actors are all fluent in English, asking them to perform it was like asking them to swim with hands tied behind their backs and legs weighted, Mr. Zuabi said. “But somehow they’re still floating,” he said.
Ms. Zaidan said that she had to learn her speeches in Arabic first, mingling her emotions and mental imagery with the words. Only then could she act them in English.
“It was really weird for us,” the actor Alaa Shehada said as his castmates laughed. “In Arabic we emphasize everything! In English, no.”
But even in English, the actors were eager to work on a play that showed Palestinian characters living in relative peace. “As a Palestinian, you are always afraid of being identified as a fighter or a terrorist,” Mr. Shehada said.
“Or an occupied victim,” Mr. Zuabi added.
“Here, there is no bombing, there is no shooting,” the actor Motaz Malhees said. “This time there is something genius.”
The play doesn’t ignore the realities of occupation. Checkpoints are mentioned, and so are visas. There’s the possibility of a military incursion by Israel. But these are ancillary concerns. “They’re present in the play like they’re present in our lives,” Mr. Zuabi said. “We don’t live these political headlines. We have boring, normal lives.”
“This is a show about people,” he insisted. It’s about the relationship between a father and a daughter, a mentor and an apprentice, a woman and her suitors, he said. “The truth is we represent nothing,” he said.