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Saval Players

That Sara Aziz!

Location + schedule

The Playwrights' Center
2301 E Franklin Ave.

DateTimeMy FringeAccess
Sunday 8/87:00 p.m.  
Monday 8/95:30 p.m.  
Thursday 8/1210:00 p.m.  
Saturday 8/142:30 p.m.  
Sunday 8/157:00 p.m.  
About the show

Contains Adult language
For ages 12+
Comedy, Drama, Multicultural, Political

Written by Maniza Naqvi

Overall rating

A BIG Thank You to all of you who attended our show. We really appreciated your presence.

Thank you for writing the reviews. We are very happy that most of you liked what you saw. For the few who didn't like it, we still appreciate the time and effort you spent. We paid attention to all comments and incorporated the ones that had usable suggestions into our thinking.

Again, thanks for a fantastic response. You have been a wonderful audience.

Here is an interview with Danielle Palmer and Michelle Schwantes.
Part 1
Part 2

Read Mo Perry's blog post about Sara Aziz here .

And Sara's Behind The Fringe description here .

Play Information

Do Prada shoes clash with a hijab? Is Sara an anorexic nymphomaniac? Four stylish, successful sophisticates answer these questions and more in less time than it takes a cougar to score her next morsel.

“That Sara Aziz!” is an entertaining take on a search for identity and attempts to fit in. It is an intimate view of four modern women learning to harmonize their many roles: Pakistani, American, Muslim, Woman. The play uses the humor-filled and biting conversation of these women to reflect the search within the immigrant Muslim community, especially by women, for how to fit within the American mainstream while retaining a connection to their origins. Along the way, the play dismantles the stereotypes of Pakistani and Muslim women, some of which are accepted unquestioningly by Pakistanis and Muslims themselves.

With humor and passion the conversation of the four women teases out the strands of thought in the confrontations between cultural tradition, modernity, and religious politicization. In the course of the discussion the women's personal search for love and the challenges of raising a family are also revealed and establish their commonality with women in mainstream US society. Towards the end of the play one of the characters has a conversation about her love affair that could be a metaphor for US foreign policy in Pakistan. However the dialogue throughout the play is light and full of humor while pushing the boundaries of some cultural conventions amongst Pakistanis to create a little edginess.

Anyone who has faced the tension of balancing multiple sets of expectations about how they should behave and what they should think will relate to the characters in this play. In particular those who come from very traditional or conservative backgrounds, whether social or religious, will understand the uncertainty that accompanies the attempt to live differently and will resonate with the tension caused by the pull towards conformity to traditional standards that is reinforced by the conservatism of peer behavior. Similarly those who belong to misunderstood or misrepresented groups will empathize with the emotions felt by the women in the play as they seek to maintain a connection with their heritage while seeking to grow in new ways by using the new ideas that they have encountered.

Ask yourself a few questions as you watch the play. Do Kulsum and Shireen provide models of integration? Is Ava truly progressive or has she simply exchanged one set of conventions for another? Is Sonia an independent thinker who has broken through to a new synthesis? At one point Ava says of Sara “Oh yeah, if she walks into a room with all of us, and she is in a hijab while the rest of us aren’t, what does that say for us?”. So is a woman's choice to put on a hijab really an action that impacts only her and no one else? Can any individual fit in within society if the sub-group to which he or she belongs is not accepted within that society?

Lindsey Holmes
Role: Shireen
Lindsey Holmes is a Minneapolis based actor with a background in theatre, opera, television, and film. She studied vocal performance and Italian studies at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and upon graduation, has performed in many short films, commercials, and music videos; however, has not performed on stage for quite some time. Sara Aziz will be the second performance in the Minnesota Fringe Festival for Lindsey and the first performance with the Saaval Players. When not performing on stage or behind the camera, Lindsey is an event photographer for Metro magazine, a blogger for (a lifestyle/entertainment blog) and a singer in the duo band “Yacht Club”.

Danielle Palmer
Role: Ava
Danielle Palmer got her first taste of the theater at age three when participating in her local community production of Charlotte's Web. Since then she has worked on several theater and film productions including appearing in the National Touring Production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with Donny Osmond. She spent the last 3 years on company with Hunt Productions in Salt Lake City, Utah, appearing in several original musicals, as well as playing Christine in Phantom. A recent transplant to Minnesota, That Sara Aziz is Danielle's first stage production since her arrival in the Twin Cities. This summer, Danielle began production on a web-series being developed at the University of Minnesota by Strange Turtle Blues Productions called Forsythia, and wrapped production on two independent feature films. She also sings around the state with her band, Spirit of the Radio, covering 20 years of classic rock music. "I am so excited to be involved in this production! This show's unique window into the world of Muslim American women has completely changed my understanding of Islam. I'm so excited to share that with our audiences."

Bushra Rahman
Role: Kulsum
Bushra Rahman is a graduate of the University of Minnesota. This is her first stage production.

Michelle Schwantes
Role: Sonia
Michelle Schwantes has extensive experience in the Twin Cities market as a Director, Actor, Dancer and Producer. National and international professional tours include: Boston Repertory Theatre (Boston, MA), Poetry Alive! (Asheville, NC), CLIMB Theatre (Inver Grove Heights, MN), and Giggle Poetry Players (Minneapolis, MN). She has worked as an artist-in-residence with the International School of Beijing (Beijing, China), Community International School of Shanghai (Shanghai, China), and Concordia International School of Shanghai (Shanghai, China). She has performed locally with Children's Theatre Company, The Walker Art Center's Performance Series, Gremlin Theatre, Pig's Eye Theatre, Stages Theatre, SteppingStone Theatre and many others. Other Media includes: Film/Television: Modus Vivendi, Sweet Caroline, Turning the Century: Tillie Anderson and the Women's Bicycle Revolution, Rapid Eye Movement, Emotional Labor. Industrials: The Kangaroo Project, Graduation Standards, Grad Finale Broadcast Radio: co-host of weekly Spirit Shop Show on 95.9 FM, numerous broadcast radio commercials Spokes modeling: for companies such as Cadbury, Kimberly-Clark, Novartis Pharmaceuticals, Tetra Pak, Miller Brewing Company, Coors, and Leinenkugel.

Ahmed Naumaan
Role: Director
After many years of attending the Minnesota Fringe Festival as an audience member Ahmed Naumaan decided to join it as a presenter. It was an easy decision to make because of having come across such a wonderful script as “That Sara Aziz!”. Ahmed's background is in engineering, IT, management, and higher education. He has published and given talks in multiple forums and has served on the board of several non-profit organizations. He co-hosts a show of South Asian music for KFAI Radio, has recorded and broadcast interviews with many artists and dignitaries, and produced radio documentaries. He has projects underway in news translation and podcasting but he is looking forward to producing and directing more plays through

User reviews

bring it back when it's ready
by Kevin Drew Follow this reviewer
Rating 1 kitty
There's definitely something here worth exploring, but the whole play feels unfinished. Others have noted some odd choices in staging and a couple accents that come and went, but the real problem is the script feels like a first draft that's being workshopped, for instance Eva's whole manner of speech changes for the final scene like her lines were written for a different character. I checked out mentally when the passage of time was illustrated by... time passing, and I had to watch a couple minutes of women cooking and sipping coffee in total silence. Oh well... keep writing.

Well Done!!
by Shehla Mushtaq Follow this reviewer
Rating 5 kitties
My son and I thoroughly enjoyed the play.
An excellent first attempt at direction and production. The actresses all gave a great performance, especially "Kulsoom" who played the part and delivered the lines quite like a desi!
It was refreshing to see the topic of hijab and Islam presented in a light setting. There is more to a Muslim than the version of Islam, with which the media in the West seems to have such a fascination.
Well done for being brave, working with a sensitive topic and bringing this play to the Fringe!

Saluting the attempt
by Elise Heise Follow this reviewer
Rating 3 kitties
I have to give credit for first time Fringe director Ahmed Naumaan taking a stab at Maniza Naqvi's "That Sara Aziz." The production in particular here doesn't resonate for me, but it's good material, and relevent to Minneapolis, which stunned me on moving here by having so many women who wear hijab. I just think the actors and the director are way in over there heads here with this particular material. And to those who saw the show and want to get more out of the material, here is a setup of the play and the text of it by the author herself:

Great Performance
by Matthew Jones Follow this reviewer
Rating 4 kitties
And great insight into American/Pakistani relations.

Audio play in visual medium
by Fringivitis Vulgaris Follow this reviewer
Rating 2 kitties
Mostly, it's conversation: 4 women of varying career paths in NYC talk about a peer back home in Pakistan. The context is pre-9/11. The scandal is that the never-seen Sara Aziz is adopting a conservative demeanor after a racy life. Everyone has an opinion but nobody talks to Sara. The show needed more action and more background to optimize the story. Nice use of non-English phrases that seemed to be contemporary when the show was written.

by Purvi Suthar Follow this reviewer
Rating 3 kitties
It was an interesting play. Acting was good and small touches like ring tones etc. were fun. Going in without reading the play, I kept anticipating that the women would meet for dinner and then have deeper discussions. Also, the end was little abrupt for me. Overall, good attempt at putting such a topic into a play!

Admirable Intentions...
by Sid Solomon Follow this reviewer
Rating 1 kitty
Intended to provide a though-provoking evening, this script just is not worthy of production.

A play about 4 women on the phone. Only on the phone. And without discernible structure of any kind.

Uneven performances and uninformed execution make for an unfortunately avoidable show.

That Sara Aziz
by Katherine Fennelly Follow this reviewer
Rating 1 kitty
The idea was good, but the treatment of some of the complex issues of who wears a hijab and why were very superficial and only reinforced stereotypes. The switch from the phone conversations to Ava's discussion of her affair seemed like an abrupt ending of one play and beginning of another.

Good Play, Interesting Topic
by Ketan Mehta Follow this reviewer
Rating 4 kitties
I thought the topic was very apt for today's world even though the play was set in late 90s. The actresses were great, humor was subtle and good. Ending was a bit abrupt for me. Overall very interesting experience watching this play. Would recomend it.

Maybe the worst show Ive seen n 15 year
by Allan Brown Follow this reviewer
Rating 0 kitties
When you buy the ticket, read the directors notes because the actual play is incomprehensible and aside from four actors talking about a common friend who apparently lives in Pakistan I could not follow it.

Why on earth does the play take place on cell phones? If the play took place in the late 90's as the program says, then the air charges the they ran up would have paid off the national debt. Obviously these four friends have more money than some small countries.

At some point the actors forgot they were supposed to be on telephones, got up, and talked to each other face-to-face, then remembered the telephones and sat down again. This would have been so much easier if they just got together for dinner like they started off.

Finally the bonus ending of the play was about US-Pakistani foreign policy. Thanks for the directors notes, I though it was about the lack of morals or judgment of one of the characters - Silly me.

Eager and Earnest, Yet Lacking
by Andrew Fafoutakis Follow this reviewer
Rating 1 kitty
I was very excited to see this play when I read the synopsis, but unfortunately I was left unsatisfied. While entire plays on the phone can and have worked before, I really wanted these characters to interact in the same space and deal with the problems at hand. The four women did the best they could, but the dialogue was awkward and clunky. A few of the actresses needed some energy and urgency in their performances. Michelle Schwantes turns in a fine, strong performance and is one of the few who seemed comfortable with the foreign words and dialect. I am always excited to see new faces of color on the stage, so I hope to see Bushra Rahman continue acting. She just needs some more training and fine-tuning for her performance. The director/producer is eager and earnest, and I'm very glad he wants to bring these stories and new voices to the stage. I encourage him to keep working and retooling future projects.

Good acting/direction; interesting topic
by Ravi Sura Follow this reviewer
Rating 4 kitties
The acting was good and not over the top, as some of the other plays I have seen. The topic was certainly interesting - kudos to the director for taking it up; perhaps, a bit obscure for somebody not too familiar with the finer points of Pakistani society at present (but, then, that's is the point of seeing the play - to learn more). The last part of the play was a wee-bit over the top and I did not get it till I read the program notes. Just a small note: the use of different kinds of music and ring-tones was quite symbolic and apt. A good play overall!

I wanted more---or less
by amihan huesmann Follow this reviewer
Rating 3 kitties
I enjoyed this show. The actors were good, the characters compelling, and there were moments of humanity and of humor, and a lot of different perspectives on the issue of wearing a hijab.

BUT---there was some pretty awkward staging (sometimes the actresses switched from addressing each other on the phone to addressing each other in person and back again), and I wanted the show to be either shorter and more compact *or* longer and accomplish more.

The hijab controversy
by todd melby Follow this reviewer
Rating 3 kitties
If you live in Minneapolis, seeing a Muslim woman wearing a hijab is commonplace. Old women, young women in fashionable skirts and jeans, even elementary girls, proudly wear the hijab. But among Pakistani-American women, the hijab can be controversial. That's the central thesis of "That Sara Aziz." This play tells the story of four South Asian women living on the East Coast who have successfully adapted to American life. But when the group learns that their Karachi-based friend — the play's namesake — has started wearing the hijab to fancy fundraisers back home, the friends launch into a heated discussion about whether it's the proper Muslim thing to do. One of the characters, a lawyer, argues that the Qur-an mentions a head covering for women only once and being a erudite attorney, she quotes the verse. There are references to Mullah Omar, the Taliban, Indonesia and geo-political scene in this post-9/11 play. As other reviewers have noted, the play suffers from the fact that the women spend all their time on the phone and never actually meet in person (maybe this should have been a radio drama?) and that the play seems to be more about an idea than a particular character's moral dilemma or rise and fall. That said, if you want to insight into the pros and cons of the hijab — from a Pakistani point-of-view — this is the play to see.

Well Presented
by Terry Largent Follow this reviewer
Rating 5 kitties
The same dynamics in interpersonal relationships can transcend differences in cultural backgrounds, like the need to gossip and second guess the motivation of why others do what they do. That Sara Aziz was both entertaining, thought provoking, and was very well presented by a talented cast. This play earns five kitties.

I Didn't Get It
by Erica Mauter Follow this reviewer
Rating 1 kitty
I did not read the program, but I wish I had since that apparently is where the story is told.

At the end of the show, I had no idea who any of the characters were, other than that they were four friends who are apparently very busy.

Sara Aziz isn't even in the show! She's a plot device for the other characters to make a statement about hijabs. A plot device is fine, but I never got the statement. I'm sure this is a common conversation, but I got no sense of what that common conversation is. Just that these four women were catty bitches.

Although it doesn't even matter whether the characters were likeable or not. I was really just confused and terribly unsatisfied through the whole thing.

60s Encounter Group
by Dave Romm Follow this reviewer
Rating 3 kitties
The title character never appears, but gossip about her sparks an identity crisis among four Pakistani Muslim women in New York during the 1990s. Islamic women are going through the exact same emotional wrangling as their sisters from earlier times. Change a few words and cultural background and That Sara Aziz could have been a 60s encounter group. We would now call Sara Aziz a cougar. The entire play takes place on the telephone, for some reason, and is only forty minutes long. The first ten minutes set up the characters, and the last ten minutes seemed tacked on which didn't leave much time for the meat of the discussion. I appreciated what was presented, but the topic deserves greater range. A Shockwave Radio Theater Review.

Longer reviews with pictures at Baron Dave's LiveJournal and snarky comments on Facebook.

Great Acting & Thought Provoking
by Michael Thorsen Follow this reviewer
Rating 5 kitties
Very possibly the cream of the crop at this years Fringe Festival! Going into this play I wasn't sure what to expect, but found "That Sara Aziz" to be entertaining and thought provoking. Very strong acting by the Saval Players produced a very entertaining play that highlighted and contrasted the differences between the limited world of a traditional Pakistani upbringing and the often vapid world befalling a "modern" lifestyle. Very easy to give five kitties to this well written, well directed and well acted play!

Cut the last 5 minutes
by Patricia Mack Follow this reviewer
Rating 3 kitties
This play was going to get 5 kitties...until the last 5 minutes. Please just cut them. It was so good....we do not need the bit on the was a non sequitur.

Typical chit chat on the phone
by Nudrat Iqbal Follow this reviewer
Rating 5 kitties
We don’t come across many shows in life that are thought provoking and have good quality humor blended in. This play was certainly that. Being from Pakistan but having chosen to live in the US, I totally relate to conversation of these 4 friends, it was a very realistic. The fact that the phone is a life line between friends was a very interesting set-up for the play.

I will also confess that I had read the play before hand. I knew the content was strong but I was not sure if it would make the impact it should because strong acting abilities were needed. Watching it at the opening night, I was impressed to see the strong performances of the actresses and great execution by the producer/ director Ahmed Naumaan. Job well done. This is certainly a play not to miss.

nice but hang up the phone!
by vickijoan keck Follow this reviewer
Rating 4 kitties
I can't understand why the playwright decided to have the whole play on the telephone. The first scene, yes; but why not set the 2nd scene at the dinner party the ladies are planning? It would free these talented actresses up so much not to be tied to the phone. I was so distracted by this that I had a hard time really getting what this play was about. But the script is interesting and meaningful, and the actresses are talented, especially Michelle Schwantes.

Pure Torture
by Kathy Douglass Follow this reviewer
Rating 0 kitties
I knew I was in trouble when I saw the program. Pages of director’s notes explaining every aspect of the script and each character’s motivation (even their blocking). I guess in case the writing was so poor or acting so non- existent the audience would not understand the subtext, the director essentially provided us with one of those book club readers guides found in the back of the Oprah books.
This play takes place ENTIRELY on the phone. The actors never stop talking on the phone meaning they have one hand held to their head for the whole show. Their first conversation takes up about 10 minutes of trying to come up with a time they can all get together, but they never do. And although they constantly talk to each other on the phone, they sometimes walk over to each other, make eye contact and conduct a face to face conversation, while supposedly on the phone in two different locations. The artistic merit of this totally escapes me.
This is an entirely humorless and pedantic production with zero writing, acting, directing or production values. Even the sound effects were terrible and distracting. (And don’t think we didn’t see you checking your lines on note cards behind the casserole dish or hidden in magazines and note pads.)
I think they maybe thought they were trying to be some type of cool Pakistani version of the Sex and the City girls, but each character was completely negative, catty and unlikeable.
But don’t just take my word for it – take it straight from the director’s notes. The notes tell us the play takes place in the late 1990’s and “at a sidewalk café Ava, who is a lawyer, is seated sipping her caffe latte, magazines scattered on the table in front of her, text messaging on her cell phone. In a high rise building somewhere down on Wall Street. Sonia, an investment banker is in an office seated at her computer emailing and next to her phone.” Well, thank god that was explained to me in advance as the acting was so poor I might not have been able to figure that out. “emailing and next to her phone.” Is that even a sentence? And is Ava a lawyer or a sidewalk café?
And, hey – director/producer Ahmed Nauman – your average consumer phone did not have text messaging available in the late 90’s.
I am forever grateful for the director’s note that made me realize the conversation at the end of the play, (the one that’s on the phone, but still face to face), the one where they gossip about one of them having an affair with a married man, or something like that, is really….wait for it….a ”metaphor for US policy towards Pakistan.” “There is no recognition of ME” she laments, “To not be acknowledged, that’s what hurts”.
To watch this show. That’s what hurts. ZERO KITTIES. Not just the worst show I have ever seen at fringe perhaps the worst show I have ever seen, period. In my entire life. And I will be 52 on Wednesday.

You've Got to be Kidding
by Ronald Laudner Follow this reviewer
Rating 0 kitties
Well, it goes to show, out of 169 shows in 19 theaters in Minneapolis and St. Paul, a show has to be 169th! I just wish there had been an emergency, the lights go up and we would have been evacuated!

Insight more than drama, gratefully
by Kent Bergh Follow this reviewer
Rating 4 kitties
A nicely staged series of 4-way phone conversations let us in on how modern life and religion feel to some of the women living in the tidal zone between them. It is definitely worth your time to listen in.

Well done
by Brenda Kruse Follow this reviewer
Rating 5 kitties
I enjoyed That Sara Aziz! very much. The actors played the roles well in an interesting, funny, and thought-provoking show. I'm glad I got there in time before it sold out opening night. Highly recommend.

That Sara Aziz - Opening Night
by Lisa Cook Follow this reviewer
Rating 5 kitties
A group of colleagues, friends and I attended opening night of this play - it was good that we arrived early as it ended up being fully sold out! Ahmed Naumaan's directorial talent and the excellent acting ability of the entire cast made this a huge hit with the audience. It featured in-depth character portraits in a very short time span and did a nice job of integrating Pakistani and American cultures. I highly recommend this play!

Why theater is important
by Jim Patton Follow this reviewer
Rating 5 kitties
Okay, after reading the Behind the Fringe interview with Ahmed Naumaan and recognizing myself as one of those "associates" who advised him to drop the project, I am so glad he persevered. A theater outsider, he had no experience, but he had something to say. What is said is something we should all hear.

While I understand the play is centered on Pakistan and Pakistani women, in light of the Taliban atrocities in Afghanistan in the last few days, I can't help but think of it in terms of Afghan women.

A perspective is presented here that very few of us have ever heard before - the questioning of how Islam and the Quran is interpreted by those who grew up with it - who live it. Our ignorance is akin to a situation where the rest of the world sees Christianity in the US by only observing the behavior of the most strict fundamentalists. What a narrow view we have of Islam and Pakistani women.

So why is this play important? It provides an understanding of a culture that directly impacts our lives daily. It promotes tolerance toward a people and religion at a time when it is very much needed.

To every one involved, I say, "good job!" for having the courage and persistence to pull this off so well.