Hassan Arawas believes a good laugh can help pave the road to peace in the Middle East. So earlier this year, the 2000 graduate, a Muslim and native of Kuwait, sat down with Roni Geva, a Jew and native of Israel. Together, the unlikely duo created The Arab/Israeli Comedy Hour, a 20-skit play that humorously traces the history of the Middle East. Through imaginative sketches like “The Chair,” where the pair cast the Israeli/Palestinian situation as an argument over a chair and who gets to sit in it, and “Dueling Davids,” where both claim to be the heroic David slaying the Philistine Goliath, Arawas and Geva burn cultural and political stereotypes in the fire of humor.
The show has become a hit at Chicago’s ImprovOlympic theater, overselling every performance since its April opening. And Arawas says audience members often stay afterward to discuss their divergent views.
“Despite all these obstacles, we really believe that peace is possible,” Arawas says. “We show points of view from the Arab and Israeli sides—both valid points of view. And we proudly say that we’re equal opportunity offenders. Sometimes we’ll have a Jewish person come and say that something in the show offended them, and we say, ‘Go talk to the equally offended Arab across the room.’ ”
The show’s climax is a seven-number musical parody of “West Side Story” called “West Bank Story,” in which the actors express their hopes for peace.
“That’s actually my favorite part,” Arawas says. “In the rest of the show, I represent the Arab point of view, and Roni the Israeli view. But in this part, we switch roles; she becomes an Arab woman and I become a Jewish man.”
Arawas says the show will go on in Chicago as long as attendance remains high. When things slow down, plans call for a move to the ImprovOlympic West in Los Angeles. In the meantime, Arawas has a more basic goal: to stay in the United States. His work visa expires next summer, and if he hasn’t established a career, he could be sent back to Kuwait. Nevertheless, he’s optimistic. Perhaps, he says, he could get a job in television.
“I think it’s time for an Arabic ‘Cosby Show,’ ” he says. “Something like ‘Everyone Loves Hassan.’ ”