Mrs. Ghada’s Pain Threshold

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The translation of Mrs. Ghada’s Pain Threshold was one of four works developed during hotINK at The Lark 2015. The translation was commissioned by Catherine Coray with funding from NYU Abu Dhabi.

Synopsis

Inspired by the author’s admiration for the Damascene women who “push against the edges of all that constrains them–societal norms, religious propriety, family expectations–in subtle and personally significant ways,” Mrs. Ghada’s Pain Threshold focuses on one such woman who, facing middle age and life as a recently widowed, single woman, unexpectedly meets a man who offers the possibility of a new start. The play is a subtle–almost mysterious–and moving play about coping with the past and trying to find new love.

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Characters

GHADA – 42

ANAS  – 40

RABIH – 48

MONA – 68

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SCENE 1

Ghada’s family home. Mona and Ghada are sitting on the balcony having coffee. Mona is wearing a woolen scarf.

MONA

They are going to dig up the park…turn it into a café.

GHADA

They were bound to do that sooner or later.

(Ghada takes out a pack of cigarettes from her handbag and puts it on the table. Then she pulls out two pillboxes and puts them near Mona.)

GHADA

This is the medicine. One pill in the morning and one before bedtime…you should take a diuretic with it.

MONA

I am bored with this…my feet hurt from going to the bathroom.

GHADA

You can’t take blood pressure pills without a diuretic, it can be dangerous…and you should change the bathroom, get a Western toilet.

MONA

That’d be disgusting. Your dad would pee in it standing up.

GHADA

It is important you take the diuretics.

(Ghada takes a cigarette and lights it.)

MONA

Put it out.

GHADA

Just one puff.

MONA

Put it out.

GHADA

He’s at the mosque. He won’t finish for another half an hour.

(Mona looks firmly at Ghada and vice versa. Ghada takes a quick drag and puts out the cigarette. Short silence.)

MONA

Haven’t you been to the dentist yet?

GHADA

I’ll go this week.

MONA

How is work?

GHADA

Splendid!

MONA

What is it?

GHADA

The manager is threatening to deduct 5 percent if I don’t quit the course.

MONA

What course is that?

GHADA

Spanish. They want me to quit.

MONA

Do you have enough money to sign up for it?

GHADA

It’s fully paid by the ministry. And I ought to be allowed time off work for it.

MONA

Why do you want to learn Spanish?

GHADA

I want a change.

MONA

What use is it?

GHADA

I will speak Spanish.

MONA

How long is this course for? And where is it?

GHADA

At the Spanish centre.

MONA

Is your teacher Spanish? Is he a man?

GHADA

It’s a girl, mum. A woman.

MONA

There’s no need for this kind of thing. Really, that’s enough.

GHADA

What shall I do instead? Have tea and coffee and chat on the phone? I do that every day.

MONA

Your manager said there is no need for it.

GHADA

It’s none of his business. The ministry provides courses so we can sign up for them.

MONA

He can fire or transfer you. How will you live then? Haven’t you had enough hardships?

GHADA

Forget about it. Stop worrying.

MONA

Yes…sure, no need to worry.

(Ghada starts to talk when suddenly she has a toothache. She begins to gather her things.)

MONA

Yesterday Abu Khaldon visited us.

GHADA

And?

MONA

He told your dad that he saw you in Bab Touma.

GHADA

I saw him. He was staring at me.

MONA

Smoking shisha and laughing.

GHADA

He was staring at me like an idiot. I wanted to slap him.

(Mona looks at Ghada for a while.)

MONA

You have to stop doing that, stop your obscene behavior, stop wearing clothes that do not suit us.

GHADA

They suit me.

MONA

They don’t suit your look or age.

GHADA

I haven’t worn a skirt in 25 years because Abu Khaldon said I was too old and it wasn’t appropriate for me to show off my legs…we were still living in the same neighborhood then. Today he comes all the way here to say the same thing and dad listens and agrees.

MONA

Show some respect when you talk about your father.

GHADA

Why is he allowed to interfere in our business?

MONA

Talk to your father when he comes back and resolve it.

GHADA

I don’t want to talk about anything. If he wants to he can visit me, he knows where I live.

MONA

You left home years ago and he never forced you to return.

GHADA

The month I spent here was enough.

MONA

You were in your grace period after the Wajeh…. What, did you want to go out and meet people for example?

GHADA

That is not why I left.

MONA

You talk as if someone mistreated you or forced you to do something against your will.

GHADA

I can’t stand sitting in the living room or keeping my bedroom door open. I can’t stand your waking up early, the TV never turned off, all the visitors, the smell of cooking, dad’s constant worrying about my silence and always asking the same question: “What are you thinking about? What are you thinking about?”

MONA

You’ve acquired your husband’s worst habits and his moodiness.

GHADA

I’ll stay in my home.

MONA

The pitiful amount of money you inherited is about to run out…how will you pay your rent?

GHADA

Don’t worry about me.

(Short silence.)

MONA

You will have to answer to God for everything you are doing to yourself and to me.

GHADA

We don’t need to have this conversation.

MONA

You’ve deprived me from having grandchildren. Your marriage only brought us trouble.

GHADA

Goodbye mum…look after yourself.

(Ghada gathers her stuff and leaves…in a few seconds we hear the outside door closing. Mona is trying to calm herself down. She brings out a hidden pack of cigarettes and lights one up.)

(Blackout)

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SCENE 2

Anas’ office. Anas is sitting behind his desk, working at a computer. Mozart’s “An Die Einsamkeit” (“The Loneliness”) is playing quietly, barely audible. Enter Ghada.

GHADA

Hi.

ANAS

Hello.

GHADA

I’d like to get my teeth checked.

ANAS

What’s the problem?

GHADA

Sudden bouts of pain.

ANAS

Since when?

GHADA

About a month.

ANAS

Please.

(Anas rises, puts on gloves and turns on the light by the examination chair.)

ANAS

Please, sit down.

GHADA

You’re the doctor?

ANAS

I don’t have a nurse. I have to do everything myself.

(Ghada hesitates for a moment and then approaches the chair while Anas prepares the tools he needs to examine her teeth.)

GHADA

I’ll come back tomorrow.

ANAS

Don’t worry, I don’t have any appointments right now.

GHADA

Better to come back later.

ANAS

I could do a quick examination.

(Ghada hesitates for a moment and then sits on the examination chair. Anas approaches, putting the mask over his mouth. Ghada gets up quickly.)

GHADA

I’d rather book an appointment.

ANAS

As you wish.

(Anas takes off the gloves and the mouth mask, turns off the chair light and goes back to sit behind his desk.)

ANAS

Your name?

GHADA

Ghada.

ANAS

Can you come tomorrow. Around 8:30pm. I only work at the office in the evening, does that suit you?

GHADA

It does.

ANAS

Age?

GHADA (hesitating)

Forty-two.

ANAS

Profession?

GHADA

Officer in the Directorate of Finance.

ANAS

Do you have insurance?

GHADA

I don’t know.

ANAS

Check on that. Maybe your insurance would cover this. Address?

GHADA

Third floor.

ANAS

Pardon?

GHADA

Third floor.

ANAS

You live here?

GHADA

I heard a dentist was transferred here about a month ago.

ANAS

None of the building’s residents have paid me a visit yet.

GHADA

No one lives on the first or second floors. There are only surgeries and offices there.

ANAS

This basement is good but lacks mobile reception and ventilation.

GHADA

Smoke?

ANAS

No. You?

GHADA

Not in a doctor’s office.

ANAS

Are you sure you don’t want me to examine you now?

GHADA

Tomorrow.

ANAS

Half past eight.

GHADA

See you.

ANAS

Bye.

(Anas gets up and walks Ghada to the door. He stays looking in her direction after she leaves.)

(Blackout)

*

SCENE 3

Ghada’s house, the bathroom.

Ghada enters the bathroom, looks in the mirror, contemplating herself for some time…extending her finger to her teeth, she rubs them then sniffs her finger…it seems that she doesn’t like the smell, so she opens the water tap and begins to brush her teeth. This lasts for about a minute, she winces with pain every now and then. She brushes her teeth and tries to smell their odor. She starts using a mouthwash, gurgles and once again tries to smell her teeth. She lights a cigarette and contemplates her surroundings, puts the cigarette aside and collects her clothes from the laundry basket. She leaves the bathroom and then comes back and starts cleaning the floor with a broom (or mop). Her mobile rings for a while before she pays attention to it. She leaves the broom on the ground.

GHADA

Hello, Nesma…good…no…all right…I’m reading…yes…a new book…I don’t feel like it today…no, I didn’t check his Facebook page…did he write something new?…about what?…maybe he is writing about his girlfriend…why would he write about me on his wall?…tomorrow, maybe…don’t worry, I’ll get in touch…bye.

(Ghada puts away the mobile. She starts to brush her teeth again. After a few seconds she realizes she was in the middle of cleaning the floor. She wipes her mouth and goes back to smoking a cigarette.)

(Blackout)

*

SCENE 4

Anas’ office. Ghada is on the examination chair. Anas is examining her teeth. The only sound is “An Die Einsamkeit” playing in the background. Ghada winces with pain every now and then. Anas removes the face mask and turns off the chair lights. Ghada straightens up in the chair.

ANAS

I haven’t finished yet. You have beautiful teeth.

GHADA

Any problems?

ANAS

Five teeth need root canal treatment. Another two are on the verge of total collapse.

GHADA

I don’t understand.

ANAS

Your teeth are rotten, infected.

GHADA

I only feel mild pain, when I eat something.

ANAS

What you feel has little connection to what is really going on.

GHADA

When did this happen?

ANAS

How long has it been since you saw a dentist?

GHADA

Two years, I think.

ANAS

Your teeth are suffering.

GHADA

I didn’t feel that.

ANAS

Pain is relative, you need a lot of time before you feel the warning signals it sends…the good news is you haven’t suffered, but the bad news is that your teeth are rotting. You must have high endurance. To pain, I mean.

GHADA

What should we do?

ANAS

You’ll need to spend a lot of time here at the office.

GHADA

How much?

ANAS

Two months of intensive treatment.

GHADA

That’s not what I meant.

ANAS

I can’t determine how much it will cost now.

GHADA

I can’t start the treatment without knowing. I don’t have medical insurance.

ANAS

Let me ask you this: do you need to do your seasonal vegetable shopping, for example?

GHADA

No.

ANAS

Oil for the heater?

GHADA

No.

ANAS

Pay the school fees?

GHADA

I don’t have children.

ANAS

Then everything else can wait. You can get up.

(Anas sits behind his desk. Ghada sits opposite him.)

ANAS

We’ll make a start on the right side as it’s less affected. Then you can decide if you want the rest done. I’ll cap all the teeth to protect them.

(Brief silence.)

ANAS

Let me take care of it.

GHADA

When will the torture begin?

ANAS

Torture? Is that what you think we do?

(Goes to the examination chair.)

ANAS

Come.

(Ghada gets up. Anas starts to show her his tools.)

ANAS

These are our weapons…nothing to fear.

GHADA

Can I touch them?

(Anas takes a pair of medical gloves.)

ANAS

Give me your hands.

(Anas puts the gloves on Ghada’s hands.)

ANAS

Go ahead.

(Ghada examines the instruments one after another. Then she grabs hold of the drill.)

GHADA

What’s that?

ANAS

It can help to reveal cavities. Remove the rot.

(Anas turns on the drill for a while then turns it off.)

ANAS

Is that scary?

GHADA

What do you think?

ANAS

If the noise bothers you, I can fix it. Two cotton buds in the ears.

GHADA

What really scares me is what you’ll do with it. Pull, drill, cut.

ANAS

I won’t hurt you.

GHADA

Do you take care of all your patients this way?

ANAS

We have time.

(Ghada takes off the gloves.)

ANAS

If you decide to go ahead, you can’t back out. Things will only get worse.

GHADA

I don’t have a choice?

ANAS

I fear not.

Bios

Abdullah Alkafri

Abdullah Alkafri is a playwright, journalist, and critic. He graduated from the High Institute of Dramatic Arts, Department of Theatrical Studies and has participated in many workshops, such as the 18th International Playwrights Group at the Royal Court Theatre (London, 2007).  In 2012, he published and directed Mrs. Ghada’s Pain Threshold in Beirut; was a member of the selection committee of “Arab Contemporary Dramaturgy” organized by the European program (IEVP CT Bassin Méditerranéen) and hosted by the Festival d’Avignon and the Institut Supérieur des Techniques du Spectacle. In 2013 in Beirut, he designed, in partnership with SHAMAS association, “MINIATURES: A Month for Syria” for Agora 1, a platform for theatre labs in the Arab World. Alkafri was awarded first place in the 19th Mohammad Teymour Competition for Theatrical Creativity, for his script Damascus-Aleppo, which was also shortlisted as a finalist in the BBC competition for best translated work in 2008. He is executive manager of Ettijahat Independent Culture, an institution promoting independent culture in Syria and the Arab region. Ettijahat works to activate the role of independent culture and arts in contributing to cultural, political, and social change. Alkafri is a master’s candidate in theatre at Saint Joseph University, Beirut.

Hassan Abdulrazzak

Hassan Abdulrazzak is of Iraqi origin and was born in Prague. He trained as a cell and molecular biologist, and worked at Imperial College and Harvard University. His first play, Baghdad Wedding, premiered at Soho Theatre, London in 2007. Other productions were mounted by the Belvoir Theatre in Sydney (2009) and Akvarious productions in India (2012). Baghdad Wedding also was broadcast on BBC Radio 3, and a staged reading was produced by Golden Thread Theatre in the U.S. His second play, The Prophet, was staged at the Gate Theatre in London and had a reading by Noor Theatre in NYC. Abdulrazzak's short plays include The Tale of Sinbad and the Old Goat, part of the multi-author play Arab Nights, which was produced by Metta Theatre and premiered at Soho Theatre in 2012, then toured the UK; and You Don't Have to Be American to Get Laid But It Helps, part of Waiting for Summer, which was produced and directed by Swivel Theatre Company in 2014. He has also written two full-length screenplays and translated several plays from Arabic to English for the Royal Court Theatre. He lives in London.

Mrs. Ghada's Pain Threshold. Copyright (c) Abdullah Alkafri, 2012. English translation copyright (c) Hassan Abdulrazzak, 2015.