The Witching Hour
The Witching Hour is an autobiographical musical recounting the exact opposite of a success story. In fact, it is something of an unfussy failure story. The plot revolves around Zahra, a Lebanese dancer whose move to New York in the hopes of becoming a professional ballerina brings about interwoven personal and ballet crises. Zahra’s first milestone on the road to self-discovery is the cultural tension that manifests itself in every aspect of life in America, leaving her puzzled about her race. This confusion reaches its climax during the comedy song Not White? a high-tempo, acrobatic number in which Zahra discovers that in the eyes of everyone in the U.S, she is “Middle Eastern”, a racial term she had never encountered with regards to her color in Lebanon. Soon, however more unnerving realizations confront her triggering moments of intense introspection. During these “witching hours”, ghouls, jinn and other creatures of Arab mythology yank her out of a sound sleep in the wee hours of every Friday to torment her in eerie musical numbers. The creatures expose through song and dance the life experiences and opportunities Zahra is missing out on for the sake of ballet and convey a deeply suppressed truth: Zahra’s degree of talent, her background and hard work will barely earn her a slot in the last row of the corps de ballet in a modest company and that is simply not good enough. But because ballet fosters the illusion that changing one’s mind is for quitters, Zahra develops a dependent attitude towards dance, similar to that of an abused wife who is physically and emotionally hurt but constantly runs back for more. This unhealthy relationship disrupts a budding romance between Zahra and Ramon, a young pianist who pursues her despite the psychological turmoil linked to the “other man”: ballet. Meanwhile, disturbed by these recurring nightmares, Zahra confides in her classmates and to her surprise, each confesses to experiencing a version of the “witching hour”. Eventually, aided by Ramon’s subtle reminders that she exists and is loved outside of her profession, Zahra decides to file for metaphorical divorce from ballet. This leads to the pivotal courtroom scene in which every aspect of the legal struggle finds its dance equivalent. A few months after the divorce, for the first time in years, Zahra sleeps peacefully as the witching hour fails to take off. The creatures are present but they encounter technical difficulties: one jinni’s voice cracks, a ghoul suffers thigh cramping and so on. Zahra happily snores through this farce of a witching hour and the slapstick humor helps the audience understand that she has finally come to terms with her decision. The story comes full circle the next morning when Zahra attends a jazz class, confident that she has found a healthier outlet for her creative energy. At the end of an exhilarating jazz sequence, the teacher points to Zahra and barks: “You! Way too stiff– you think you're in ballet class? Go to the back row!” as the curtain falls on our Sisyphean heroine.