Nick Caruso delivers a monologue during a rehearsal of “The Gaza Monologues” on Friday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Nick Caruso stood in the center of the stage and spoke in a clear voice.

“The third day, my uncle, at whose house we were staying, went to buy falafel and beans for breakfast,” Caruso said. “When he returned, he parked the car at the door of his house, and before he got out of the car, a rocket fell on him.”

These words belong to Mahmud Afana, who wrote them when he was 15 years old. He was one of the teenagers behind “The Gaza Monologues,” testimonies written by 13- to 18-year-olds who lived through one of the region’s many wars in 2008 and 2009. Now, as another war rages between Israel and Hamas, young actors in Maine will share those words to raise awareness about the particular toll this violence takes on children.

Caruso, a 21-year-old student at the University of Southern Maine, was rehearsing at Space in Portland on Friday for the upcoming performances. He continued with Afana’s narrative about how paramedics came to take his uncle away.

“My mother started asking God to bring him back safe,” Caruso said. “I don’t know. Was she lying to herself or to us? Of course, my uncle didn’t come back, and he won’t come back safe.”

Space in Portland and the Maine Humanities Council are presenting two shows this weekend that are already sold out. Another is scheduled at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, and the cast will bring an abridged version to an event at a Brunswick church.


Fateh Azzam, a Palestinian-American who retired after a long career in human rights and now lives in Georgetown, and Nat Warren-White, a drama therapist who lives in Freeport, are organizing the project. They hope people in the audience will be moved to advocate for a cease-fire.

“One of the things I’m hoping for people to see is that these young Palestinian teenagers, boys and girls, in their worlds, are not any different from you,” Azzam said. “They are not any different from any hopes and dreams of any teenager anywhere in the world.”


“Gaza stopped being the city of my dreams because my dream is to be an actor. Am I going to be an actor for 20 people in Gaza? And wait till the border opens?” – Written by 17-year-old Amjad Abu Yasin, read by 22-year-old Rithmaka Karunadhara


Theater is what first brought Azzam and Warren-White together.


They met in the early 1970s at the Celebration Mime Theatre in South Paris and became friends. When Azzam became a U.S. citizen in 1979, Warren-White attended the ceremony dressed as Uncle Sam. Azzam worked overseas for more than 30 years, including as the Middle East Regional Representative of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights. He also continued to act and write plays and once directed a Palestinian theater center. He also stayed in touch with Warren-White – they appeared on stage together in a production of “Waiting for Godot” in Brunswick in 2013 – and eventually moved back to Maine in 2016.

Azzam knew the founders of the Ashtar Theatre, which developed “The Gaza Monologues” during a youth theater workshop in 2010. Thirty-three Palestinian teenagers told personal stories of the Israeli military assault that lasted three weeks in December 2008 and January 2009. More than 1,400 people died. The young actors talked about the loss of family and friends, dreams and innocence. The monologues have been translated and performed around the world, including at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

Now, in light of the deadly conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Ashtar Theatre put out a request for theaters around the world to read or perform the monologues on Nov. 29 – the U.N.’s International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Azzam wanted to answer that call. He and Warren-White tried to organize a reading in Maine on a short timeline, but said they struggled to find a venue that would host the event. Discouraged but not done, they decided to stage a full production instead.

Saphire Ensworth, center, and her castmates listen to one of the directors during a rehearsal of “The Gaza Monologues” at Space in Portland on Friday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Space in Portland will host two of the performances. Communications manager Nick Schroeder said the arts nonprofit chose to host “The Gaza Monologues” because it is “a youth-led, youth-written project anchored in Maine voices from several generations and backgrounds.”

“This production also made sense to us because it was historically rooted and helped give some context to the current war, and felt like a way to platform local young people who wanted to amplify other youth voices sharing their experience of war,” Schroeder wrote in an email. “Personally, I’m really awed by that gesture by these students. I think that while it is overwhelmingly heartbreaking, it’s an important perspective to keep in mind as we process and react to reports of Palestinians’ mounting displacement, catastrophic hunger, and death toll resulting from Israeli military strikes.”

The Maine Humanities Council is co-presenting the production. Executive director Samaa Abdurraqib said the organization wanted to help people continue the conversation about “The Gaza Monologues.” Maine Humanities Council is working with I’m Your Neighbor Books in Portland to create a reading list of children’s titles written by or about Palestinian people, and books will be available at the event. Abdurraqib said the council will also provide discussion questions for people to take away from the performance.


“We were particularly interested in the fact that the performance is bringing forward youth voices to help create some context for the atrocities that people are living through,” she said. “We believe in the importance and the power of personal narratives to help add some dimension to any historical moment, and I think that youth voices sometimes get erased or obscured in times of conflict and atrocity. Being able to hear stories in their own words is really powerful. We wanted to be able to keep on that theme, keeping focus on young people and how they are impacted.”


“Before the war, I used to feel that Gaza was my second mother. Its ground was the warm chest I could lay on, and its sky was my dreams… without limits. The sea would wash away my worries. But today I feel it’s an exile, I stopped feeling it’s the city of my dreams.” – Written by 17-year-old Ahmad El Ruzzi, read by 21-year-old Selima Terras


In November, junior Mayim Feinberg spoke at a vigil at Casco Bay High School in Portland about the lives lost in the war, now estimated to be greater than 26,000. Feinberg, who is Jewish, had been following the conflict closely and wanted to disavow the violence.

“I primarily talked about how Judaism stands for peace and taking care of each other and doing what’s right for everyone, and how that goes directly against the message that the war is about and what Israel is doing,” said Feinberg, 17.


Still, they wanted to do more and responded to a call in a school newsletter seeking actors for “The Gaza Monologues.” When the cast read the script at early rehearsals, Feinberg was shaking. Some passages felt familiar to a teenager in Maine – talk about dreams of being an actor, scenes of life by the sea. Others felt unimaginable.

“It’s really emotional,” Feinberg said. “They feel so real. I know that they were only written 14 years ago by people my age who have only ever experienced war because this repetitive cycle of war has been going on since 1948. They’ve only ever lived this life, and it hurts my heart to read the words.”

Directors Fateh Azzam, left, and Nat Warren-White talk to the performers before starting a rehearsal of “The Gaza Monologues” at Space in Portland on Friday, Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Azzam and Warren-White adapted and cut the original monologues to fit their cast of seven from Casco Bay High School, Bowdoin College and the University of Southern Maine. The students originate from Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, Somalia, Sri Lanka and the United States.

Feinberg said they hope the performance is both shocking and provoking for viewers.

“I hope there’s a lot for them to talk about,” Feinberg said. “I hope people will search out, if they don’t know a lot about it, more information, especially firsthand experiences.”



“Gaza’s fish ran away… but people were not able to. They opened the sewage into the sea, and if the sea could talk it would tell them: “Shame on you for what you are doing to Gaza and me.” Instead of music and acting schools, Gaza became a school for shooting and murder.” – Written by 14-year-old Fateema Atallah, read by 17-year-old Mayim Feinberg


Caruso met Azzam and Warren-White years ago at The Theatre Project in Brunswick. Now 21, he is a senior at USM studying linguistics and philosophy. This fall, he decided to organize his peers at his university and others in Maine to advocate for Palestine. The group of 10 or so is working on expanding their membership and drafting talking points specifically for students to use when calling elected officials. That work reconnected him to Azzam, who invited him to join “The Gaza Monologues.”

“Young people throughout history have always been this beacon that society looks to,” Caruso said. “The things that young people and students especially had to say about political movements and things happening around the world have always been a huge part of actually making change, so I think continuing that participation in history is really important. I hope our age drives that home even more for people.”

The performance will feature live music, including Azzam on the traditional Middle Eastern oud, and it will start and end with childhood poems written by two Palestinian college students shot and wounded in Vermont in November. Last week, the cast rehearsed that closing scene, speaking in unison the final verse of “Hope Dwells In My Heart” by Hisham Awartani.

“Learn to never give up hope,” they said as one. “Learn to let hope give power.”

The directors said they hope people call their elected officials to demand a ceasefire – or better yet, they hope Maine’s elected officials see the show themselves.

“If we can succeed in touching people’s heart’s with this production, the theater has done its job, in a way,” Azzam said. “But the next step would be, can we touch them enough to move them to do something?”

Student performers rehearse “The Gaza Monologues” on Friday. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

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