Don't let its unfortunate title, Chocolate in Heat: Growing Up Arab in America keep you from one of the best written and best acted shows in this year's New York International Fringe Festival.

 

Betty Shamieh tells the potent story of Aishah in five monologue segments-three for her and two for Piter Fatouche-with interlocking characters, Naguib Mahfouz-style. And like the Egyptian Nobel prizewinner, she draws the audience into the lives of the various members of the Arab community in America with imagination and sensitivity.

 

Shamieh frequently inflects her speech with a light drawl to further emphasize the Tennessee Williams-like detached theatricality of the script, also by Shamieh. "If I danced in space, my footprints would be the stars," says young Arab-American Aishah, trying to dream past life's scars.

 

Uncle Lotfi's corner grocery was where as a young girl she learned how to gain power over men via sex, in this case getting chocolate she couldn't otherwise afford. Later she became more victim than manipulator while a member of the Red Jazz Dance Company.

 

In Darmen Scranton's direction, she intersperses dance movements throughout to make her points. In his first segment Fatouche is more direct, speaking as a fictional Jordanian prince attracted to Aishah during her college days. He recounts some of the same incidents that we heard earlier, but from a masculine perspective. The stories open a world that is as attractive as it is unpleasant, one that makes you hope for more from gifted writer and performer Betty Shamieh and also from talented raconteur Piter Fatouche.

At Cararet Theater at Theater for the New City-Cabaret Theater.

One hour. [Lipfert]