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JUNE 22-26 2021

The Criminal Queerness Festival presents innovative new plays by LGBTQ artists from countries that criminalize queer and trans people and aims to uplift the careers of these artists and raise awareness about criminalization around the world.

The 2021 Criminal Queerness Festival will be staged outside and socially distanced. The festival will take place on the streets of New York City near the United Nations in Manhattan (the exact address will be shared with ticket holders to prevent crowding).

National Queer Theater is thrilled to present three incredible plays: This Is Not A Memorized Script, This Is a Well-Rehearsed Story by Dima Mikhayel Matta of Lebanon; «when we write with ashes», by Victor I. Cazares of Mexico; and a staged reading of Layalina, by Iraqi playwright Martin Yousif Zebari.

Learn more about our festival plays and playwrights below!

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Poster by Uno Servida

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Queerness is a construct. So is language, and so is this play. Nothing about this performance is reliable, the performer questions gender, memory, sex, identity, and her relationship with Beirut but gives no answers to comfort you or herself. A refusal to romanticize, a resistance against orientalization, she is left with deconstructions that she cannot put back together. This is the story of a failed relationship, with a partner, with a city, and an attempt to carry this knowledge without breaking.

Dima Mikhayel Matta (she/they) is a Beirut-based writer and actress. Matta, a Fulbright scholar, holds an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers University in 2013. They have been acting for the stage since 2006. In 2014, they founded Cliffhangers, the first bilingual storytelling platform in Lebanon, and host monthly storytelling events along with parallel events such as storytelling workshops and performances. Their first play, “This is not a memorized script, this is a well-rehearsed story,” directed by Yara Bou Nassar, an autobiographical play on queerness and their relationship with the city toured in London, New York, and Belfast, and premiered in Beirut in February 2020. They are currently working on their second play.


This is not a memorized script, this is a well-rehearsed story 

By Dima Mikhayel Matta
Directed by Em Weinstein

(First directed by Yara Bou Nassar)

Starring Dima Mikhayel Matta

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«when we write with ashes»


By Victor I. Cazares
Directed By Borna Barzin

Starring: Jose Useche and Noor Hamdi

One night you race across the Chihuahuan Desert to introduce your Muslim boyfriend to your dying grandfather—funerals are perfect opportunities to introduce a new character. Years pass and you’re on the bed of a pickup truck trying to avoid going to rehab—meth, it’s always meth these days. Your partner looks at you and tells you you’re his addiction, his self-harm. A fascist gets elected and together you wonder if you should leave the country; flee while you still can. You watch the country you fled to become the country you fled from. One of you dies and the other one remembers. You stand in the middle of the desert and look up; there are no signals. Only light pulses of transmission: one zero one zero zero one one. 

«when we write with ashes» is a burial rite—like all my plays—and the title is a reference to the final death fiesta the Raramurí perform. You write with ashes to protect yourself from the dead. You write with ashes to help them start their journey into the next world.

Victor I. Cazares (they/them) is a non-binary Poz Queer Indigenous Mexican Artist (enby PQIMA for short) who has had stints at Yale, Brown, and other less prestigious centers of rehabilitation. Like any border child, they were born twice: once in El Paso, Texas and another in San Lorenzo, Chihuahua. During the pandemic, Victor debuted virtually at Carnegie Hall as part of the Voices of Hope Festival in partnership with National Queer Theater and The LGBT Center. They also taught a tuition-free class for emerging immigrant playwrights as part of PEN America's DREAMing Out Loud program with NQT and NYTW. Plays include: american (tele)visions and Pinching Pennies with Penny Marshall (NYTW); Ramses contra los monstruos; We Were Eights Years in Powder; and «when we write with ashes» (NQT and Lincoln Center Restart Stages). Victor is currently the Tow Playwright-in-Residence at New York Theatre Workshop.

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By Martin Yousif Zebari
Staged Reading Directed By Sivan Battat

Starring: Louis Sallan, Layan Elwazani, Waseem Alzer,

Gloria Imseih Petrelli, Samy Figaredo, and Mariam Bazeed

In 2003, newly wed Layal plans a future with her family as they make plans to immigrate to the U.S. from Baghdad. 18 years later, just outside of Chicago, Layal’s life and responsibilities look unimaginably different from what she had envisioned two decades before. Martin Yousif Zebari’s surprising new play examines how families maintain their love in the midst of turbulent global and social change.

Martin Yousif Zebari (he/they) is an Iraqi-born, Assyrian-American, actor and writer based in Chicago. Layalina, his first play, had its first developmental workshop at Goodman Theatre’s inaugural Future Labs, directed by Azar Kazemi. As an Actor, he has worked with National Queer Theatre, The Angle Project, Goodman Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Court Theatre, Broken Nose Theatre Company, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Illinois Shakespeare Festival and has appeared in NBC’s Chicago Med. Martin holds a BFA in Acting from the Arts University of Bournemouth, England and is represented by Stewart Talent Chicago.

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