The Who & The What

The Who & The What

By Ayad Akhtar

Directed by Kimberly Senior

Originally produced at La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego, CA.

February 11, 2014 through March 9, 2014

About the Premiere Production

Raised in a conservative Muslim family in Atlanta, the outspoken and brilliant Zarina routinely clashes with her traditional father and sister. Zarina’s one outlet – her recently completed book about women and Islam – threatens to tear her family apart for good. With humor and ferocity, Ayad Akhtar’s The Who & The What examines the giant chasm between our traditions and our contemporary lives.

Artistic Statement

Only two years (and two plays) into his career as a playwright, Ayad Akhtar is a major new voice in American theatre. The reason for Ayad’s success is due not just to his strong sense of craft and theatricality – though he has an abundance of both – but also the stories he wants to tell. A few years ago, Ayad took a deep breath and asked himself what he was running from as an artist; what he had been continuously (if unconsciously) trying to avoid writing about. The answer was inside himself: as a Muslim-American writer of Pakistani descent, Ayad had been running from Muslim-American stories. With that realization, a whole host of stories unfolded themselves to Ayad, including his novel American Dervish and his plays The Invisible Hand, Disgraced and, now, The Who & The What.


Like Ayad’s other plays, The Who & The What places its finger on a nerve that is sure to inspire a lot of conversation and debate in the theatre and well after. When we first encountered the play – as a very first draft – we programmed it into our DNA New Work Series, a program designed to grant development opportunities to plays in the earliest stages of their gestation. As impressed as we were by the work, we were equally excited by the discussions it engendered amongst the passionate audience that attended the reading. The Who & The What will provoke many such passionate conversations, examining, as it does, family and gender politics within the contrasts between the sacred and the secular; the past and the present; rituals and realities. Its themes and conflicts are present everywhere you look, regardless of one’s religion, ethnicity or nationality.


Grant Statement

La Jolla Playhouse is pleased to be a recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New American Plays Award for the world premiere play, The Who & The What, by Pulitzer-Prize winner Ayad Akhtar. This grant will be utilized for one extra week of rehearsal time, giving the piece and its creative team additional time and resources to help make it a huge success at the Playhouse and during its second production at Lincoln Center’s LCT3 and beyond.

Director: Kimberly Senior

Set Design: Jack Magaw

Lighting Design: Jaymi Lee Smith

Sound Design: Jill BC Du Boff

Costume Design: Elisa Benzoni

Dramaturg: Gabriel Greene

Additional Funders

Lead Sponsor: The Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation Theatre Visions Fund

Co-Sponsors: Weston Anson & Susan Bailey and Linda Chester & Dr. Kenneth Rind

Subsequent Productions

Lincoln Center Theater in New York, NY May 31, 2014 - July 27, 2014

Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley, CA February 28, 2019 - March 24, 2019

TheaterWorks (Hartford) in Hartford, CT June 5, 2020 - July 12, 2020

Gulfshore Playhouse in Naples, FL April 30, 2016 - May 15, 2016

Round House Theatre in Bethesda, MD May 25, 2016 - June 19, 2016

Huntington Theatre Company in Boston, MA March 31, 2017 - April 30, 2017

Kansas City Repertory Theatre in Kansas City, MO October 17, 2014 - November 16, 2014

ARTSWEST in Seattle. WA September 7, 2017 - October 1, 2017

Milwaukee Repertory Theater in Milwaukee, WI September 27, 2017 - November 5, 2017  


Ayad Akhtar Play Among Highlights of New York Theater Workshop Season

New York Times, April 8, 2014