For much of Palestine, you might be forgiven for confusing Najla Saïd’s autobiographical monologue with an episode of Gossip Girl: Upper West Side Edition. Sure, there’s some content about displaced persons and dispersed bombings, but there’s also chitchat about Zabar’s, boys, anorexia, and fashion. In addition to her celebrated parentage (the late professor Edward Saïd is her father), Saïd boasts her own claim to fame—or is it infamy? She’s likely the only person to have traversed Palestinian refugee camps attired in suede shoes and an Agnès B. skirt.
On the stage of the 4th Street Theatre, glittering in gold earrings and an embellished top, Saïd positions herself as an “Upper West Side Princess”—smart, vivacious, and scatterbrained. Though capable of articulateness, she opts for a careless, conversational style: “I don’t know all 22 Arab countries well enough to make such generalizations, but anyway. . . .” Despite her pose of ditziness, Saïd has something crucial to communicate: “I mean, we’re not all that different from the world—Arabs.” It’s an obvious statement, but one that in post-9/11 New York still bears repeating, and Saïd is an alluring spokeswoman.
Her monologue, however, could do with some prettying up. The structure is chronological until it isn’t, thematic until it wanders off on a tangent. It calls for mimicry, for which she has little gift. Sturgis Warner, who served as the play’s dramaturg, hasn’t managed to find its narrative arc. Warner also directs, which in this case seems to consist of urging Saïd in and out of pools of lighting and cueing up execrable sound effects, such as bombs that sound like drum riffs. Still, two hours in Saïd’s presence make for a fine Arabian (well, Arabian-American) night.