The Who and the What


Writers: Ayad Akhtar


Show Information

Number of Acts
First Produced
Contemporary, Multiple Settings
Time & Place
Present Day (2010s), Atlanta, Georgia, USA
Cast Size
Ideal for
College/University, Community Theatre, Diverse Cast, Professional Theatre, Regional Theatre, Religious Groups, Small Cast
Casting Notes

Includes adult, mature adult, young adult characters


Zarina, a brilliant, devout, and scholarly writer, has been working on a novel about the gender politics of Islam for years…. but after the death of her mother and the breakup of her relationship, her creativity has declined, and she spends her days brooding instead of writing, and refuses to date. This state of affairs worries her loving but traditional father, Afzal, who has refused to allow his younger daughter Mahwish to marry until he can find a husband for her older sister. Mahwish, seemingly eager to marry her childhood sweetheart, helps Afzal to enact a cunning scheme: matchmake for Zarina by impersonating her on a Muslim dating website. After meeting and interrogating Eli, an earnest young convert to Islam who is an imam, a community organizer, and licensed plumber all rolled into one, Afzal persuades a furious but intrigued Zarina to give the man a chance. Eli has nursed an admiration for Zarina ever since meeting her, briefly, at an academic lecture, and couldn’t believe his luck when he found her on Muslim dating website. When he realizes that he has been communicating with her father instead, he is uncomfortable, but ultimately undaunted. Sparks fly for Eli and Zarina, intellectual, hostile, and flirtatious sparks which continue into their marriage, a marriage Afzal worries is doomed to failure unless Eli “breaks” Zarina, taking back the power as a good Muslim husband should. But when Afzal and Mahwish get their hands on Zarina’s novel, and discover that it is an R-rated work of historical fiction about the Prophet Muhammad which could endanger the lives of their entire family and call into question a key component of their faith, the whole family may be in danger of breaking apart. With a nod to Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, Pulitzer Prize winner Ayad Akhtar has crafted a beautifully multi-layered play, simultaneously a loving domestic comedy and a serious, far-reaching story about faith, doubt, and the search for truth.

Lead Characters

The Who and the What guide sections