Faiz Siddique, a Brown man, stands in profile at left wearing a black shirt and trousers. Kneeling on a white convertible sofa at right is Aila Ayilam Peck, a Brown woman, who wears a short red-patterned dress. She is holding a keychain above her head and smiling.
Faiz Siddique (left) and Aila Ayilam Peck in Hatefuck at First Floor Theater Credit: Michael Brosilow

You don’t have to be a sucker for love-hate romances among the literati to fall in love with Rehana Lew Mirza’s Hatefuck, but it helps. Then again, Lew Mirza’s play, now in its local premiere with First Floor Theater under Arti Ishak’s clever direction, provides a lens not usually implemented in tales of professional and personal shenanigans in the academic and publishing world. (Think Lucky Hank or The Chair as recent entries in the genre.)

Through 6/10: Thu-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM; also Mon 5/22 and 6/5 8 PM (industry), Wed 5/31 8 PM (understudy performance) and Sat 6/10 3 PM; Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee, 773-697-3830, firstfloortheater.com, $5-$35

That lens is the way in which Muslims are stereotyped and demonized in popular culture. And that gives Hatefuck higher stakes and deeper resonances than I’ve usually encountered in these scenarios. Layla (Aila Ayilam Peck) is a professor at Wayne State University. She shows up at a party thrown by successful writer Imran (Faiz Siddique), seemingly to let him know she won’t include him on her syllabus because she thinks he’s sold out by exploiting Muslim stereotypes in his bestsellers.
Well, as the title implies, that initial acrimony gives way to passionate physical and intellectual fireworks. (Kudos to Samantha Kaufman’s inspired intimacy direction.)  “It’s not my job to make Muslims human,” Imran declares. “We are human,” Layla retorts. Lew Mirza’s script is loaded with direct-to-the-gut revelations but also subtle moments that tease out the nuances in how Layla and Imran have become the people they are in a place and time that’s all too quick to reduce them to convenient tropes about burqas and bombs. And at the center of Hatefuck is a funny but aching dissection of an evergreen question: can you change a system from within, or must you settle for holding onto your values while remaining on the sidelines?