By Samah SabawiDramaLa Mama Theatre, in association with Samah Sabawi and Lara Week

Them

across the sea that separates us from them
life waits for us on the other side
and I can’t go there without you…


In a city at war, five young people count down the days before a boat leaves for Europe. Who will leave, who will stay, and what will their choices cost them?

Portrait of Samah	Sabawi

Samah Sabawi

Samah Sabawi is an award-winning playwright, author and poet. Her play Tales of a City by the Sea won two Drama Victoria Awards, was nominated for the Green Room Award for best independent production and was selected for the VCE drama playlist. Tales of a City by the Sea had a Canadian, a Palestinian and an Australian production, and continues to be read and staged in many cities around the world.

Samah’s recent play THEM was selected for the Melbourne Theatre Company’s 2018 Cybec Electric season, enjoyed a sold out premier at Melbourne’s La Mama Courthouse, and received high critical acclaim. THEM was also selected for the VCE drama playlist and will be remounted in 2020 at Arts Centre Melbourne. Sabawi is co-editor of Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas, winner of Patrick O'Neill Award and co-author of I Remember My Name, winner of Palestine Book Award. Samah has just submitted her PhD thesis on Palestinian Exile and the inheritance of trauma at Victoria University in Australia.

Judges’ report

Them is a searing and sharply-edged work about the horrors of war, and the ways in which it can corrupt or enhance a person’s humanity. With great skill, Sabawi sketches a family in crisis and a nation in tatters; unnamed and stripped of cultural identifiers, this is a world that exists beyond the clichés of political discourse. The playwright brilliantly uses humour and surprise to augment the growing sense of disquiet, in a nod to Kafka and Beckett, but what shines most clearly is a deep compassion and a powerfully articulated despair.

Extract

Scene 1

STREET. Dusty with scattered rocks and debris. There is a piano on the right, three chairs and a sheesha in the middle and a check point on the left.

As the audience comes into the theatre, the piano man is sitting at the piano and playing a lively tune while Majid, Omar and Mohamad stand next to him, casually singing along or dancing. Once the audience is seated, a sound of an explosion interrupts the music. The men run off stage in a panic. The piano man pushes his piano off stage. Lights go out as the sound of bombing ensues and continues into the next scene.

Scene 2

BEDROOM. Lights fade on to a modestly furnished bedroom. There are a few scattered baby toys on the floor. The bombing finally stops and is followed by a moment of silence. Leila and Omar’s voices are heard speaking in loud whispers from underneath the bed. 

Leila:
They stopped.

Omar:
About time! 

[the sound of the dawn call for prayer is heard]

Omar:
Dawn is breaking. How is Marwan? 

Leila:
[sighs] He sleeps whenever the explosions are loud. Here, put your hand on his heart. Can you feel how fast it’s beating? 

Omar:
Like a horse on a racecourse.

Leila:
I wanna wake him up.

Omar:
No. Let him sleep. 

[pause] 

Leila:
I need to get out.

Omar
No no no no… don’t. Not yet.

[Baby Marwan stirs]

Omar:
Don’t move him. He’ll wake-up.

Leila:
So what? Just leave him under the bed? 

Omar: 
We should all stay under the bed for a few more minutes just to be sure they’re done playing with their big guns. 

Leila:
I can’t. I’m going crazy down here. I’ve got to get out.

Omar:
[Seductively] Would a little bit of this help convince you to stay? You know, we’ve never tried it down here before? 

[sound of kissing]

Leila:
Oh please! Really? It?

Omar:
Ahhha…

[light laughter]

Leila:
Careful. Marwan will wake up.

Omar:
You’re right. Let’s go somewhere else. Meet me under the left side of the headboard, right next to the slippers. 

Leila:
As sexy as your proposition sounds, and I mean what girl in her right mind would say no to a romantic rendezvous, next to a pair of slippers, but I’m going to have to decline. 

Omar:
You’re breaking my heart.

[Leila crawls out from under the bed] 

Omar:
Wait! Stay with me.

Leila:
I can’t! I need to remind myself I’m human, and not some frightened insect hiding under the furniture.

[The baby grizzles]

Omar:
Shhhhhh… you see what you’ve done? Now he’s awake. 

[Leila stands and stretches her arms and legs before she sits down on the floor and leans her back on the bed. She reaches for her phone and starts to scroll on it. Omar follows her and gently pulls the baby out from under the bed. The baby makes crying noise, Omar stands up and begins to pace the room with Marwan in his arms gently humming a lullaby.]

Leila:
Omar.

Omar:
Yes. 

Leila:
We shouldn’t sleep together anymore.

Omar: 
[Dramatically] Woah woah woah. This is all we’ve got!

Leila:
Can you be serious?

Omar:
Never! It would kill me.

Leila:
Well, you might be killed anyway. We are in the middle of a war.

Omar:
You don’t know that. This could be the end of the war.

Leila:
Or it could just be the beginning. 

Omar:
All the more reason not to be serious.

Leila:
Let’s spread out. Sleep in opposite corners of the apartment, so when a bomb falls --

Omar:
-- If a bomb falls.

Leila: 
Fine. So if a bomb falls, one of us might still survive… 

Omar:
And live to mourn the other…? 

Leila:
If I die, Marwan would at least have you. [The baby cries, Leila puts her arms out gesturing Omar to hand him over. She starts to breastfeed the baby while continuing the conversation. Omar sits next to her and looks on with loving eyes]

Omar: 
What if Marwan is with you and I’m the wretched one that survives? I don’t want a life that doesn’t have you and Marwan in it.

Leila: 
We have to increase our chances. For Marwan’s sake. 

Omar: 
I don’t have a chance without you. I will sleep with you. Live with you. Die with you. [Jokingly] Darling…

Leila:
Yes?

Omar:
Would you be so kind as to share a bomb with me?

Leila: 
Not funny. 

[Leila and Omar grab their mobile phones and scroll quietly for a moment]

Omar:
You’ll be relieved to know according to the news, the fighting was all in the South

Leila:
And once again only bad people … terrorists … were killed?

Omar:
Absolutely! 

Leila: 
Why is that? 

Omar:
Because civilians here have a special protective skin. Bombs bounce right of it. 

Leila: 
Of course! 

Omar: 
Most of the fighting was literally three streets down from here.

[pause]

Leila: You know what this means? 

Omar:
They’re practically at our doorstep.

[Leila leans closer to Omar holding her phone up] 

Leila:
Smile! 

[They both fake a smile. She snaps a selfie with her phone camera]

Omar: 
What was that for?

Leila:
Mama. I messaged her to say we’re fine but she demanded proof. 

Omar: 
Don’t post it on your wall. I don’t want my friends to see it. They are perverts. 

Leila:
With the way I look now, you really shouldn’t worry.

Omar:
The way you look? Do you have any idea how beautiful you look?

[Leila smiles tenderly as he gets closer]

Omar:
Is Marwan sleeping?

Leila:
Not yet. He’s still feeding.

Omar:
Man… I swear this kid has it in for me. He only sleeps during the fighting and is wide awake whenever there is calm.

[they return to their phones] 

Leila:
We should have left with my parents. Look! They posted new photos…they seem so …happy.

Omar: 
Everyone smiles in photos. We just did. Doesn’t mean they’re happy.

Leila: 
They’re safe. I know that would make me happy. 

Omar:
They live off charity in a foreign country in some stranger’s home.

Leila: 
It’s temporary. They’ll be settled soon. Look! [she shows him her phone screen] This is their new neighborhood. It’s so lush and green. Can you imagine Marwan running through this park? 

Omar: 
Their new neighborhood? Darling, that is not now, nor will it ever be their neighborhood. They will always be made to feel like outsiders there. Besides, their old neighborhood used to be green too.

Leila: 
Not any more. Everything here is now so grey, even the trees are now coated with layers of ash, rubble and dust.

Omar:
Things will go back to how they used to be. Remember how your parents used to invite us every Friday? 

Leila: 
Ahhh… the smell of my mother’s fresh bread.

Omar:
And your father’ secret falafel recipe.

Leila: 
He was so proud of his falafels he almost disowned my brother once for saying it needed more salt.

Omar:
The smell of mint tea on the balcony. 

Leila:
Watching children play in the street –

Omar: 
Mmmm… and eating sweets from Abu Abdo’s bakery…

Leila: 
Abo Abdo left. He is selling sweets to strangers in Europe now.

Omar: 
They’ll never appreciate him the way we did.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist