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Photo courtesy of the Astoria Performing Arts Center
Photo courtesy of the Astoria Performing Arts Center

The Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC) is kicking off its 17th season with the world premiere of “Veil’d,” a play that explores identity and how we see and represent ourselves among diverse people.

The play, which is directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh, will run from Nov. 2 to 18 at the Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, located at 30-44 Crescent St. (at 30th Road), Astoria. Performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m., and Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Tickets are $18 for adults and $12 for students and senior citizens. Tickets can be purchased online at www.apacny.org or in person at the box office an hour prior to each performance.

The play follows Dima, a 16-year-old girl with a rare skin condition who recently moved from Afghanistan to New York with her family. As she spends most of her time hiding out in her room, her parents fear that she’ll never have the “normal” American teenage experience that they hoped she’d have. Little do they know that Dima is getting by with some help from her secret friends — Elliot, a poet who hangs out under her window hawking rhymes, and Speedo, a talking nurse shark who saves the day in more ways than one. But will Dima have her happy ending?

Monet Hurst-Mendoza, the playwright, originally wrote “Veil’d” while she was in college. She found that in writing this play, she is able to subvert the status quo and reveal the truth in universality, allowing the play spark change.

“As the daughter of an immigrant, my childhood was similar to Dima’s — a combination of my father’s Yucatecan roots and my mother’s American life. That combination had a profound influence on me,” said Hurst-Mendoza. “As a result, I explore how race, culture and gender expectations influence family dynamics in my plays, particularly for young people as they ‘come of age.'”

Nikhaar Kishnani, who plays Dima, was excited to take on the role, especially since her character never feels the need to comment on her race. When asked about if she learned anything about herself or how she portrays herself to the world in her character, Kishnani responded:

“I wish I could say I see myself in one way, but like most brown girls in my generation, I code-switch,” Kishnani said. “This modified quote from Selena (the best movie ever) has the best answer I can give you: ‘We gotta be more [brown] than the [brown people] and more American than the Americans. Both at the same time. It’s exhausting!'”

Sahar Bibiyan, who plays Dima’s mother Rhami Mansour, was able to connect to the relationship that her character has with Dima.

“I connect to the unconditional love of her child, Dima,” Bibiyan said. “To being an immigrant and leaving behind your home in order to be safe. Wanting a better life for your family despite the cost of a strange new world. Sacrificing your own needs for your family. Trying to fit in and find who you are in two different cultures — as an immigrant myself, I’ve experienced being an outcast and misunderstood.”

Bibiyan also wants the audience to take away that we are all Dima, in some form or another.

“We all have things we veil, cover, bury and have to overcome,” Bibiyan said. “We also have the same desires no matter where we are from. We have more in common than we think. And being different is beautiful.”

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