The AJYAL Theatrical Group, under the direction of its founder, Najee Mondalek was founded in Michigan in 1988 and has successfully toured New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Portland, Houston, Chicago, Toledo, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Windsor, Sydney & Beirut. It is the first Arab-American theatrical group to "take the show on the road" and perform for Arab-American audiences in those cities.
Most of AJYAL Theatrical Group' shows poke fun at the everyday lives of Arab-Americans, who have recently become citizens and who are desperately trying to blend into the mainstream of American culture. The plays serve as a forum to help people laugh at their mistakes and mishaps but also to come to terms with social issues facing Arab-Americans, such as their difficulties adjusting to a new culture and lifestyle. These performances, like music, art and other entertainment media, are an important piece of the fabric of Arab-American culture.
He may wear all the trappings of a Middle Eastern matriarch when he portrays "Im Hussein" on stage, but when the curtain goes down, Najee Mondalek resumes his rightful place as producer, director, writer, technical advisor and stage sweeper, on occasion.
If few people know Najee, it is because the character he created has eclipsed his own persona. He is, in fact, the brain behind the Arabic plays that have toured the United States and Canada since 1989 to sidesplitting laughter and thunderous applause.
Born in Lebanon, few years before the war erupted that would last more than a generation, Najee grew up in a fearful environment. That he emerged as a brilliant playwright, particularly of comedy, is not surprising. In the bomb shelters of Jdeidet Marjeyoun, Lebanon, he passed the time imitating friends and neighbors from his home village. In the midst of terror, humor still has its place.
Najee came to the United States in 1985. He received an Associate degree from Macomb Community College in 1988 and later that year enrolled in Wayne State University, where he received his Bachelor degree in Mass Communications in 1992. In 1997 he earned his Master's degree in Virtual Reality, 3D Animation and Visualization from the Academy of Art College in San Francisco. Throughout hardship and hard work, Najee has remained true to his dream of becoming a successful writer, producer, actor and director. The "roar of the crowd" keeps him going.
Najee has a knack for taking every day situations and putting a humorous spin on them. His plays and skits deal with the little things in life, the slips of the tongue and "bon mots" that carry humorous overtones.
While still a student at Macomb, Najee often joined fellow Lebanese students and swapped humorous stories. Out of those casual get-togethers came Najee's idea of writing a play, using his friends as actors. And that's how the AJYAL Theatrical Group started.
The first play " What a Shame" (Arabic: Osotna Ossa) was performed at the Attic theater in May 1989. Although it was not a box-office bonanza, it was an artistic success. The show went on the road, increasing its audience with each performance.
AJYAL's second play "Students Nowadays" (Arabic: Talamiz Akhir Zaman) unfortunately coincided with the invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 and was postponed several times and never performed.
In 1991, the third play "Honest Thieves" (Arabic: Hamiha Haramiha) was more dramatic and political. It, too, proved to be untimely due to "Desert Storm" and repercussions felt in the Arab-American communities around the country.
In 1993, the group performed "Smile You're In Dearborn" (Arabic: Ibtasim Anta Fi Dearborn). The next year, Najee created his most successful play "Smile You're In America" (Arabic: Ibtasim Anta Fi America) debuting his now-famous character, Im Hussein. During the course of performances, the actress playing the role of Im Hussein had to leave. Up until 72 hours before the curtain rose on a sold-out performance, Najee had not found a replacement. Out of necessity, he became Im Hussein, and the audience began its love affair with "her".
To the sheer delight of Arab-American audiences in major metropolitan cities from New York to Los Angeles, AJYAL performed the highly popular theatrical show "We Became American" (Arabic: Ta'amrakna Ya Sanadi) in 1996, and the equally memorable skit series "Come See.. Come Saw" (Arabic: Taa Tfaraj Taa Chouf) was performed in 1998.
The 10th anniversary stage celebration of AJYAL "Habby Bairday" was performed in 1999 & 2000. The culmination of 10 years of theatrical performances across the continent, the show was exclusively performed for Detroit-area fans and followers in appreciation for their loyalty and support over all those years.
"Me No Terrorist" (Arabic: Ana Moush Irhabieh) was scheduled to be performed in the fall of 2001, but was postponed due to the tragedy of September 11th. The show was performed in Michigan in May & October 2002 and was a smash hit. The group took the show on the road and performed in 14 cities around USA and Canada, and for the first time the show was performed in Lebanon from October 17 until December 14, 2003 and also from July 1 until September 5, 2004, and was a big success. The last performance of this show was on November 28, 2004 in Sydney - Australia
During the 2005-2006 season "Arab & Broud" (Arabic: Arab Warasna Marfou') was performed in Detroit, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, & Sydney-Australia. "Arab & Broud" is to be considered a part two of the very succesful play "Me No Terrorist".
"Where Does it Hurt" (Arabic: Shoufou Alwawa Wayn), the latest comedy by AJYAL Theatrical Group, premiered in Dearborn, Michigan in October 2009, and was performed in 26 cities across the United States, Canada and Australia.
Most actors and actresses who star in the shows are committed to their craft. Representing all walks of life, including medicine, engineering, pharmacy, business, computer programming and film production, these individuals perform out of their belief that the theater affords a legitimate opportunity for them to communicate to their audience in a special way. They love the theater!
In addition to Najee, the AJYAL family members are: Michael Mondalek, Ayman Safaoui, Hassan Haj, Rita Srour, Rodney Karromi, Rabih Jaber, Nader Aoude, Rima Amine, Ramy Taha & Christine Mondalek.