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Features May 2007: Volume 4, Number 2

On The Job: Palestinian Drama

Daoud Heidami, MFA, ’02
By Raymond Hardie


What do an Adam Sandler comedy and an off-Broadway tragedy about the Israeli West Bank have in common?

Set against the backdrop of the first intifada of the 1990s, Masked, by Israeli playwright Ilan Hatsor, tells the tortuous tale of three Palestinian brothers split apart by the Israeli/Palestinian political conflict. One is a simple butcher, who starts the play symbolically cleaning up blood in a bleak, Halal butcher’s shop on the West Bank. Another is a member of a militant Palestinian group, and the third is a traitor, who spies for Israeli intelligence. Daoud Heidami, M.F.A. ’02, in his first starring role in Manhattan, plays the oldest, the traitor.

Opening last summer at the DR2 Theatre in Manhattan, the play, which ends with the killing of Daoud by his brothers, got strong reviews from New York critics. “A sensation,” raved The New York Times, and the New York Daily News praised its “passionate performances.” Heidami garnered special notice for his portrayal of the morally tortured Daoud. “The play’s most compelling moments come exclusively from Heidami’s Daoud, whose pragmatism makes him at first sympathetic, then flawed and, finally, vile,” Sam Thielman wrote in Variety.

The 85-minute play is a tinderbox of emotions—volatile and explosive. “It’s a rocket,” Heidami says. “You get on it and you ride it until the very end. The audience then becomes almost like the fifth family member in the way they’re reacting.”

And audiences do react. The play appeals to both sides of the divide, and has already been translated from the original Hebrew into Arabic and produced in Palestinian villages and towns. “Masked is not a pro-Palestinian play. It is not a pro-Israeli play,” the play’s director Ami Dayan told @UCSD. “It is a play about human beings forced to make brutal choices in a time of crisis.”

Heidami brings a unique connection to the play’s subject matter, apart from the fact that his character is coincidentally called Daoud. He was born on the West Bank in the town of Bethlehem, before moving to Texas with his family at the age of 4.

“Daoud brought personal commitment and urgency to the role,” Dayan said. “His focus was on the relationship and the love between the brothers, rather then the politics of Masked. He engaged the audience and involved them emotionally before exposing them to a reality of no easy answers.”

As a Palestinian, Heidami is well attuned to the reality of no easy answers. He recalls a simple family story about his mother crossing a bridge with his sister when she was a toddler. An Israeli soldier searched them and took the girl’s doll. “My sister started crying and he wanted her to stop, but my mom told him, you took her doll away from her, how is she going to stop crying?” Later that night his sister said to his mother: “I wish I was a butterfly and could just fly over the bridge and not have to cross it.”

Heidami was attending Sam Houston State University in Texas, when Judy Dolan, a UC San Diego theater design professor, gave a lecture. “Judy did a slide presentation about the school and the work that’s done there,” he says. “I got very excited about UCSD, and so I went to Chicago and auditioned. And I was very lucky, lucky, lucky to get into that program.”

Heidami credits the program for shaping him as an actor.
“I was very green. I had no idea of the reality of what it would be like to be a working actor,” he says. “And it was that program, and the entire faculty who really shaped the realities for me. And I was able to get something from everyone there.”

Jim Winker, a professor of acting, remembers him as one of those students who made marked progress during his three years. “Daoud came into the program with lots of raw talent and we watched him learn how to be an actor. He even has a sense of humor about himself—a rare gift in an actor.”
Since graduation, Heidami has worked in repertory in La Jolla, Denver, Seattle and Washington, D.C., as well as touring to Edinburgh and London. He has also appeared on television in Guiding Light and Law and Order and in the movie Syriana.

Early last summer, he landed a part in the new Adam Sandler comedy You Don’t Mess with the Zohan. This meant he was working on the play Masked and the movie at the same time, and it was not always seamless. His second call for the movie was 6 a.m. on the day Masked was to open. At 4 p.m. they still had not shot the first of his two scenes. By 5 p.m. they had driven to a new location and taken their dinner break. “I left the set at 7:45,” he recalls, “got into a car, and got to the theater just in enough time to get into my costume for the opening night. It was most surreal.”

Since opening Masked, things have become a little less frenetic, even though Heidami’s understudy has had to fill in for him while he is shooting the movie in L.A. He has even started to enjoy the split vision. “It’s very interesting,” he says. “Both projects kind of juxtapose each other, in that one is a take on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict from a comedic perspective.”

In the movie, Adam Sandler plays a Mossad agent who fakes his own death and moves to New York City to become a hair stylist. He ends up working in a hair salon owned by
a Palestinian woman, and is pursued by John Turturro’s character and three Palestinian stooges. Heidami plays one of the stooges along with Rob Schneider and Sayed Badreya.
“ I’m in a unique situation in that I get to work with some
of the best comedians/writers of our time,” says Heidami, “and it has reinforced what I got at UCSD.”

Masked has been extended to run through January and the movie is due out in the summer.


UCSD Theatre and Dance


New York Arab-American Comedy Festival


"Daoud came into the program with lots of raw talent and we watched him learn how to be an actor. He even has a senese of humor about himself -- a rare gift in an actor. "