Theatre is the Thing: TMR’s Best-Books List

7 June, 2024
Some of the most exciting voices from the Arab world, Iran and beyond are featured in these titles, which respond to an extraordinary time in the region’s history through plays now available in English translation.
Here are our top 12 picks.



New Iranian Plays
New Iranian Plays

New Iranian Plays, introduced by Nazanin Sahamizadeh, 2022

This collection features modern stage plays from Iranian writers, mostly women, with a spectrum of themes, from modern relationships to migration, revolution and the effects of war in modern Iran. The plays provide insight into a country that is often misunderstood. Plays and playwrights include Home by Naghmeh Samini, A Moment of Silence by Mohammad Yaghoubi; Dogs and my Mother’s Bones by Mojgan Khaleghi; Isfahan Blues by Torange Yeghiazarian; Shame by Sholeh Wolpe; and Manus by Nazanin Sahamizadeh, Leila Hekmatnia & Keyvan Sarreshteh, translated by Siavash Maghsoudi, based on Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani’s testimonies.

Theatre in the Middle East - Rahimi
Theatre in the Middle East

Theatre in the Middle East: Between Performance and Politics, edited by Babak Rahimi, Anthem Press, 2020

The collected essays from noteworthy dramatists and scholars in this book represent new ways of understanding theatre in the Middle East not as geographical but transcultural spaces of performance. What distinguishes this book from previous works is that it offers new analysis on a range of theatrical practices across a region, by and large, ignored for its dramatic traditions and histories, and it does so by emphasizing diverse performances in changing socio-political contexts.

Stories Under Occupation
Stories Under Occupation

Stories Under Occupation, and Other Plays from Palestine, edited by Samer Al-Saber and Gary M. English, University of Chicago Press, 2020

Palestinian theatre today is drawing increasing interest throughout the Arab world and beyond, as theatres and universities in the English-speaking world are becoming familiar with companies like the Freedom Theatre, Al-Kasaba Theatre, Ashtar, Al-Rowwad, Yes Theatre, Al-Harah, and the Palestinian National Theatre.

This volume presents contemporary plays from a number of Palestinian theatres in English offering a rare look into the dynamic life of contemporary Palestinian theatre. The works gathered here arise directly from the physical and psychological realities of the occupation, combining activism and critical self-inquiry. The anthology represents both the micro-political geography and theatrical institutions of Palestine, covering the West Bank from the farthest north to the farthest south, the Galilee, Gaza, and Jerusalem. What emerges is the range of contemporary Palestinian national identity as expressed in the content, styles, and institutions of its theatre.

The Selected Works of Yussef El Guindi
The Selected Works of Yussef El Guindi

The Selected Works of Yussef El Guindi, edited by Michael Malek Najjar, Bloomsbury, 2019

A prolific playwright in the US, Egyptian-American playwright Yussef El Guindi often explores the immigrant experience. Addressing the personal, political, and social encounters of those trying to adapt to new Western countries and cultures, his plays are conceived and shaped with intelligence, sensibility, and humor.

This collection brings together works that span his career, from his first major play, Back of the Throat, to his boldly topical Threesome. Throughout, he delves into the  issues commonly experienced by Arab immigrants in the US such as Arabophobia, Islamophobia, media orientalism, and the complexity of bi-cultural identity.

Sentence to Hope
Sentence to Hope

Sentence to Hope: A Sa’dallah Wannous Reader by Sa’dallah Wannous, translated from Arabic by Robert Myers and Nada Saab, Yale University Press, 2019

Sa‘dallah Wannous is acknowledged to be one of the Arab world’s most significant playwrights, writers, and intellectuals of the 20th century. This is the first major English‑language collection that brings together his most significant plays and essays. Selections include the groundbreaking 1969 play An Evening’s Entertainment for the Fifth of June — a scathing indictment of the duplicity of Arab leaders during the 1967 War, as well as Wannous’s most celebrated play, Rituals of Signs and Transformations, a bold treatment of homosexuality, prostitution, clerical corruption, and the quest for female liberation. In addition to his work as a playwright, Wannous, like Brecht, was an astute theatrical and cultural critic, and his essays, some of which are included here, offer shrewd diagnoses of the ills of Arab society and the essential role of theatre in ameliorating them.

Stories from the Rains of Love and Death
Stories from the Rains of Love and Death

Stories from the Rains of Love and Death: Four Plays from Iran, By Bahram Bevza’ie, and Mohammad Rahmanian, translated by Soheil Parsa, Peter Farbridge and Brian Quirt, Nick Hern Books, 2017

The four plays include Aurash and The Death of a King by Bahram Beyza’ie, Stories from the Rains of Love and Death by Abas Na’lbandian and Interrogation by Mohammad Rahmanian, are controversial plays from Iran’s leading dramatists translated into English for the first time. Stories from the Rains of Love and Death is a quintet of interrelated one-act plays written in 1977. Aurash is a Persian myth dating back over one thousand years. The Death of the King is a retelling of Persian history. Interrogation tells a timeless truth: nothing enduring can be built on violence.

Divided World Plays of Occupation and Dispossession
Divided World: Plays of Occupation and Dispossession

Divided World: Plays of Occupation and Dispossession, edited by Kenneth Pikering, Arts Canteen, 2017

The repercussions of centuries of interference by Imperial powers in the affairs of the Middle East are with us every day; yet we seem to learn nothing from history. Divided World brings together the work of Hannah Khalil, Kate Al Hadid, and Hassan Abdulrazzak – passionate and award-winning playwrights with their roots in the Middle East, who, like Hamlet’s ‘players’ are the ‘‘abstract and brief chronicles of the time,’’ clinically exposing the realities of lives lived under illegal occupation or in the shadow and aftermath of conflict, exploitation and destruction.

Contemporary Plays from Iraq
Contemporary Plays from Iraq

Contemporary Plays from Iraq, edited by A. Al-Azraki and James Al-Shamma, Bloomsbury, 2017

A collection of Middle Eastern drama with works from both established and emerging male and female playwrights. This volume offers current Iraqi perspectives on a war and occupation that have significantly impacted the Middle East and the rest of the world. Dealing exclusively with contemporary plays originating from Iraq, this anthology gives under-studied Arabic political theatre the attention it deserves and provides a general introduction that sets the plays within their cultural and historical contexts. The plays are introduced by the playwrights themselves, enhancing each piece for the reader’s enjoyment and understanding.

The plays included in this volume are: The Takeover by Hoshang Waziri; A Cradle by Abdul-Kareem Al-Ameri; Ishtar in Baghdad by Rasha Fadhil; Summer Rain by Abdel-Nabi Al-Zaidi; Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad by Monadhil Daoud Albayati; Me, Torture, and Your Love by Awatif Naeem; A Strange Bird on Our Roof by Abdul Razaq Al-Rubai; Cartoon Dreams by Kareem Sheghaidil; The Widow by A. Al-Azraki.

Inside_Outside Palestinian plays from the diaspora
Inside/Outside: Six Plays from Palestine

Inside/Outside: Six Plays from Palestine and the Diaspora, edited by Naomi Wallace and Ismail Khalidi, 2015

When published, Inside/Out was the first collection of its kind. This anthology of Palestinian plays showcases the experimentalism and diversity of theatrical works by writers living in Palestine and the diaspora. It brings together work by six dynamic Palestinian playwrights in plays on Palestinian history and culture written with irreverence, humor and, above all, an electrifying creativity. The playwrights include Abdelfattah Abusrour, Imad Farajin, Ismail Khalidi, Hannah Khalil, Betty Shamieh and Dalia Taha.

Four Arab American Plays
Four Arab American Plays

Four Arab American Plays: Works by Leila Buck, Jamil Khoury, Yussef El Guindi, and Lameece Issaq and Jacob Kade, edited by Michael Malek Najjar, McFarland, 2013

This is the first published collection of plays by contemporary Arab American playwrights. Based on true stories from her life as the daughter of a Lebanese mother and American diplomat father, Leila Buck’s ISite invites the audience on an intimate journey in search of identity, home, and the space in between. Jamil Khoury’s drama Precious Stones boldly examines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the “safe” yet turbulent terrain of the American Diaspora. Yussef El Guindi’s Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat is a darkly humorous and sensual look at identity, media-representation, love, and lust in the Arab American community. In Lameece Issaq and Jacob Kader’s Food and Fadwa, a Palestinian family living under occupation fights to hold onto their culture and traditions while still celebrating love, joy, and hope. A preface by Arab American scholar Michael Malek Najjar and a new essay titled “Towards an Arab American Theatre Movement” by artistic director Jamil Khoury concludes the book by offering a valuable expression of Arab American life and theatre in the United States.

Plays from the Arab World
Plays from the Arab World

Plays from the Arab World, edited by Elyse Dodgson, Nick Hern Books,  2010

A collection of five extraordinary plays exploring and reflecting contemporary life across the Near East and North Africa. They include Withdrawal by Mohammad Al Attar (Syria), 603 by Imad Farajin (Palestine), Damage by Kamal Khalladi (Morocco), The House by Arzé Khodr (Lebanon), and Egyptian Products by Laila Soliman (Egypt).

Short Arabic Plays, Salma Khadra.
Short Arabic Plays

Short Arabic Plays by Salma Khadra Jayyusi, Interlink Publishing, 2002

The essence of this collection is its sheer variety. The subject matter ranges from the horrors of a political prison camp to the comic tribulations of furtive lovers trapped in a minefield, from historical fable to the world of official bureaucracy. Dramatic treatments range from the conventional to the highly experimental, some using surreal techniques- now disturbing, now hilariously amusing. Many of the plays use humor or pungent satire to address distinctively Arab issues and problems, whether these have their source outside or inside the Arab world itself. The collection gives a valuable insight into a fast-changing and increasingly distinctive area of modern Arabic literature.


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