Mektoub (It is Written)


Isabelle Eberhardt was born in Geneva, Switzerland in 1887, the illegitimate daughter of a defrocked Armenian priest turned nihilist philosopher, and the pretentious wife of a General in the Russian Czar’s army. This peculiar beginning launched a predictably unusual life that ended at the age of 27, in a tragic and operatic climax.


Isabelle’s father, (whom she was instructed to refer to as her “tutor”), forced her to master the classical education and superior riding skills of the son he never had, even teaching her to dress as a boy. In her early teens, when the play opens, her study of Islam and her correspondence with an older Muslim man have ignited a longing to explore North Africa. Arriving after many setbacks, she pledges herself to the essentially unattainable goal of becoming a Sufi mystic, by studying with a series of reclusive masters. Because women are unwelcome in the most erudite scholarly brotherhoods, Isabelle, using various male pseudonyms, dresses and lives as a man, riding to the most remote corners of the desert with caravans of nomads or Algerian soldiers and camping with the French troops then occupying North Africa, always in pursuit of what the “Mektoub” (destiny) has ordained for her life.


Spiritual ambitions notwithstanding, she is a formidable and raucous partier with a huge appetite for booze, hash and hooking up (with men). Her habits combine with chronic malaria and other illnesses to weaken her health, frequently landing her in hospitals or jails. Her lack of self-discipline frustrates her and delays her desired enlightenment, but her faith in her destiny remains absolute, causing her to make choices that to observers, even supportive ones, seem both illogical and self-defeating.


By ACT II, she has cheated death numerous times and is ill, alienated from her family and both the native and European communities. In the midst of an effort to reconcile with the Algerian Sufi soldier she has secretly married, then abandoned, she dies in a freak flash flood at the age of 27. He survives and delivers her remaining papers to the editor of a French journal. A spurned lover and would-be mentor, he “edits” her unfinished work, appending his name and publishing her book to great acclaim.


Mektoub poses provocative questions about gender roles, talent, Islam and Islamophobia, and perhaps even destiny.


This play has had two public readings but has not been produced. It is being adapted as a film script.


Cast of 11, symbolic props and stylized, movement-driven production suggested.