Betty Shamieh subtitles Chocolate in Heat “Growing Up Arab in America.” She’d be more accurate describing it as “Growing Up With Big Boobs” or “Sexual Abuse Across Cultures.” If she’d done so, the lack of a larger political view would disconcert less in this intensely personal coming-of-age piece.
Shamieh performs three monologues, alternating with Piter Fattouche, who delivers two others. Hers offer partly autobiographical glimpses of a Palestinian girl who flaunts her simmering sexuality, but also suffers for it. Fattouche plays a Jordanian prince whose mother was executed and a young Arab American victim of incest.
Director Sam Gold fills the stage with dance, movement, and music—Middle Eastern to rap. His actors display a fine sense of timing in delineating a variety of characters. Portraying a lonely prince and a Latina hooker, the expressive Fattouche nails accents and gestures in vignettes both funny and sad. With her toothy grin and sensual dance, Shamieh generates an outsize presence. As an actor, she creates some credible characters, but at times she falters. As a writer, she whips up images poetic and precise, but she also veers into the overindulgent and talky. Her murky vision appears fueled as much by anger and self-pity as insight. When chocolate gets overheated, it’s not so tasty a treat.