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Play Review: ‘The Hooves Belonged to the Deer’

'The Hooves Belonged to the Deer' is a captivating romance and retelling of the Abrahamic creation myth that marries the holy and profane.

The Hooves Belonged to the Deer is a play by Makram Ayache, directed by Peter Hinton-Davis. It is an exploration of guilt, shame, and love through a meld of queer sexuality and Abrahamic mythology.

Set in rural Canada, it follows Izzy (Makram Ayache) who wrestles with his Druze/Muslim identity, his friendship with Christian Pastor Issac (David Ley), and his emerging feelings for his best friend Will (Eric Wigston).

A secondary narrative tells the story of Aadam (Adrian Pavone), and Hawa (Bahareh Yaraghi) — Hawa is the Arabic name for the biblical Eve. This religiously inspired dream serves as a symbolic representation of the torment that Izzy suffers in real life. Aadam becomes infatuated with a white foreigner named Steve (Brett Dahl), which tests Aadam and Hawa’s relationship.

The first half of the story centers around Izzy’s relationship with Pastor Isaac. Pastor Issac makes it his mission to guide Izzy in the ways of Christ and the two grow close. However, when Pastor Issac  discovers Izzy’s homosexual relationship with Will, he responds with a disgust typical of many religious zealots.

But, Izzy still clings to the  connection he has with Pastor Issac, feeling that there is value in his spiritual teachings. At the same time, Izzy internalizes Pastor Issac’s homophobia within himself. I found this a very compelling depiction of religious trauma and the self-loathing that it can inflict later in life. The play tackles this issue quite gracefully for the most part. On a more personal level, I felt very seen with regard to my own relationship with religion. 

As someone raised in Islam, I did find myself having some qualms with its representation. I was disappointed that Izzy’s Druze background wasn’t explored more thoroughly. For the uninformed, the Druze are an Arabic-speaking ethnoreligious group. They mostly live on the margins of the Levant and in Syria.

Izzy’s identification with Islam is rather ambiguous. The play dedicates only one line about what it means to be Druze (Izzy describes the religion as “Islam with reincarnation”). Notably, Pastor Issac’s wife is a convert from Islam to Christianity, but nothing especially interesting comes from this. The wife does not have any substantive interactions with Izzy or her former faith. Despite this, at no moment was the representation of Islam deficient enough to make me grind my teeth into little stubs.

The best part is when Pastor Issac gives a speech while Izzy gets a blowjob from Will. It epitomizes the play’s greatest strength: its ability to juxtapose sex and spirituality. This juxtaposition demonstrates the absurdity of adhering to a purely heterosexual view of love. The scene takes full advantage of the small stage’s intimacy to communicate the repression that faith can cause, and the relief of releasing oneself from its binds. It is satisfyingly salacious and marks a milestone in Will and Izzy’s relationship, which develops in a very organic and convincing manner.

I was also very amused by the image of a conservative Christian delivering an impassioned speech on the importance of faith over the sinful sounds of cocksucking. In general, the play does a good job of not taking itself too seriously. I didn’t think the humour of this scene — and other comedic moments in the play — undermined the story’s emotional impact. 

The Hooves Belonged to the Deer is a work that takes a number of creative risks that gratifyingly pay off. The main romance is delightfully strong and doesn’t lend itself to the predictable sentimentality I assumed it would turn to. Except for the sometimes shallow deconstruction of the Adam and Eve myth, the play’s writing is usually very competent. It’s well-acted, and I resonated with its criticism of heteronormative sexual relations. Ayache’s play adheres to a strong thematic core and commits to exploring the perversity of malignant faith. For this, it earns a great deal of my praise.

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