Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Radio Plays Brought to Stage

Three Plays by Samuel Beckett

A PIECE OF MONOLOGUE
EMBERS
ALL THAT FALL

by Samuel Beckett
Directed by Robert Estes
Anton's Well Theater Company
St. Alban's Church, Albany
Thursday, Friday, Saturday until March 21, 2020
CANCELLED DUE TO COVID-19

Reviewed by Christine Okon

I did not know that Samuel Beckett wrote radio plays, but indeed he did, to varying degrees of success. Thanks to the intrepid literary spelunking and creative foraging of Robert Estes, director of Anton’s Well Theatre Company, three of Beckett’s radio plays are being staged at the tiny St. Alban’s Church in Albany.

The three short plays, “A Piece of Monologue,” “Embers,” and “All That Fall,” are experiments that Beckett himself didn’t seem to hold dear. Although the storylines are hard to follow in this production, Beckett’s lyricism, language, imagery, and unexpected twists persist. While the script for a radio play employs sound effects to help create a listener’s “theater of the mind,” it may not always map well to a live stage performance. For the current production, eliminating some of the sound effects may help the audience focus on the story.

The first play, “A Piece of Monologue,” was written in 1978. The Speaker (Keith Jefferds), an elderly and loquacious man who sometimes talks about himself in the third person, pours forth memories, judgments, and fears about his death at the end of the “two and a half billion seconds” of his life and the “black vast” that awaits. Jefferds masterfully immerses himself in the pain of this character who, as if in self-protection, has swept photos and memories “under the bed with the dust and spiders” and laments that the “dead are gone, and the dying are going.” Jefferds captures the lyricism and musicality, the Irishness and ruggedness, that is so Beckett; his performance evokes King Lear.

Gigi Benson, Kenneth Matis, Keith Jefferds, Brian Levi, Evan D. Winet, Jeff Prescott, Sarah Elizabeth 

The second piece, “Embers” (1959), is about a tormented man riding waves of grief and regret. Here we are treated to profound, solid acting by Brian Levi as Henry and Sarah Elizabeth as the memory of his wife Ada. The sea is the setting and nearly a character in itself, and the inclusion of ocean sounds helps create the mood which is disrupted when Henry “foot-syncs” to the sound of mud-sucked steps.  “Embers” is a good example of the expansive “skullscape” of interior monologues Beckett creates with his characters who traverse up and down their memories only to relive the original anguish. Sometimes it is difficult to discern words and story, but the passion, music, and beauty of the language is as mesmerizing as waves approaching and retreating.

After the success of “Waiting for Godot '' in France in 1957, the BBC invited Beckett to create a radio play, the result being “All That Fall” which is the weakest of the three pieces. Intended as a biting comedy about the mishaps of the dotty, overweight, old Irish bird Mrs. Rooney (Gigi Benson), this production is all over the place with sporadic sound effects like cows mooing and wheels screeching that are more distracting than expository; although they appear in the script, the use of sound needs editing and better execution. In addition, actors (Kenneth Matis and Evan D. Winet, both expert) play dual characters who are not distinctly differentiated, making it hard to follow who is who; perhaps change in costume or posture might help. “All That Fall” may have had a different impact in the original BBC production, but here it created confused, boring chaos.

For these plays, Beckett’s lyricism, passion, and language transcend incidental problems with physical execution. In Anton’s Well’s production of the three radio plays, the superb acting is the wheat surrounded by chaff.

CANCELLED DUE TO COVID-19
Three Plays by Samuel Beckett,”directed by Robert Estes. Anton’s Well Theater Company, St. Alban’s Church. Info: antonswell.org

CAST
A Piece of Monologue
Speaker -  Keith Jefferds

Embers
Henry - Brian Levi
Ada - Sarah Elizabeth

All That Fall
Mrs. Rooney - Gigi Benson
Christy / Mr. Barrell - Kenneth Matis
Mr. Tyler - Jeff Trescott
Mr. Slocum / Mr. Rooney - Evan D. Winet
Miss Fitt - Sarah Elizabeth
Female Voice / Dolly - Michele Delattre

CREATIVE TEAM
Director - Robert Estes
Sound Design - Michael A. O’Brien
Lighting Design - Nate Bogner
Assistant Director, Producing Associate, Program Design, and much more - Wm. Diedrick Razo
Photography - Jane Shamaeva










Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Loneliness of the Long-Suffering Worker

Gloria


Jared Corbin, Jeremy Kahn, Lauren English Photo: Kevin Berne

By Branden Jacobs-Jenkins
Directed by Eric Ting
A.C.T
The Strand Theater, 1127 Market, San Francisco

Until April 12, 2020

Reviewed by Christine Okon

A workplace can be like a Skinnerian experiment where rats compete to win pellets or avoid shocks. This is especially true where communication is sparse and tension is high as workers carry out mundane, daily routines that read like stage directions for theater of the absurd.

A.C.T.’s production of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ “Gloria,'' masterfully directed by Eric Ting, is what I would call a great American drama in that it balances on the increasingly familiar blade of loneliness, alienation, and violence. It opens with uplifting liturgical choral music filling the space as the stage reveals a drab, uninspired office scene of spiritless gray walls, cubicles decorated with what little individuality someone can bring to a job, narrow passageways, glaring fluorescent lights, and a frosted opaque glass window to separate the management from the workers. The beautiful music is filling the head of Miles the intern  (Jared Corbin) who removes his headset as he tends to the copy machine that churns out sheet after sheet of documents that will be collated but never read. The feeling is that of waste: of resources, time, energy, and space.

Miles dutifully carries out the lame tasks assigned by Dean (Jeremy Kahn) and Ani (Martha Brigham) who chat about the party Gloria, a coworker, gave the night before. It is clear that Gloria is  a pariah, a “painted bird” that is excluded from the flock, someone group solidarity insists you shun, like the “pig” in Lord of the Flies. Gloria apparently had put in a lot of effort for her party, hiring a caterer, inviting the whole office, only to have just four people show up, including Dean. Another coworker, self-absorbed busybody Kenra (Melanie Arii Mah) arrives late, probably because she was shopping. The conversation is banal but caustic as the three engage in rapid fire gossip about everyone, including the manager Nan who is unseen behind the frosted glass.

Martha Brigham, Jared Corbin, Melanie Arii Mah  Photo: Kevin Berne

A frumpy, serious, and angrily depressed woman appears; it is Gloria (Lauren English, about to implode) who has been a good worker with the company for years. Her face is a frozen mask of numbness, disdain, and bitter resignation as she fastens her gaze on the group, who burst into nervous laughter as soon as she leaves. The only other person outside the fray is Lorin (Matt Monaco) who works down the hall and appears only to plead silence from the jabbering jays. He is there to work, but his job, too, is menial, having been promoted to head fact checker, fact-checking the work of subordinate fact checkers.

Matt Monaco Photo: Eric Berne
The pressure of the toxic workplace is palpable, brimming with stale dreams, secret passions, guarded intentions, misery, and stress. How can anyone stand it?

Imagine a lab blown to smithereens by a failed experiment. This is the emotional equivalent of the end of Act I, the details of which I will not divulge except to say that subsequent trauma affects different people in different ways.

This story of workplace ostracism, personal connection, disconnection, greed, and selfishness is universal and painful. The second act follows the aftermath of decisions made by the surviving characters. Some turn trauma into opportunity; others are shattered and humbled. And yes, there is a chance of redemption. When the dust settles, what’s left is the simple decision to connect with each other and take a chance on kindness.

The set design by Lawrence Moten is fluid, compelling, and remarkable as it mirrors the flow of the story from gray office to Starbucks to upscale minimalism and finally to a peaceful space with a warm, chapel-like glow occupied by earnest and intense Lorin, the only character who listens and shows compassion throughout the play.

Gloria” raises questions of one’s own story: Who tells it? Who owns it? What is real, and what is appropriated? What does it mean to be a person? Branden Jacobs-Jenkins looks under the rock of mundane scenarios to reveal the dark beings living beneath. “Gloria '' is a cautionary tale, giving the viewer an opportunity to improve the human connection and transcend to redemption.

Gloria,” by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, directed by Eric Ting, A.C.T. Strand Theater. Until April 12, 2020. Info: act-sf.org


Watch the trailer: https://youtu.be/z7KbzjMS3-I


CAST
Martha Brigham*
Ani, Sasha, Callie

Jared Corbin**
Miles, Shawn, Rashaad

Lauren English*
Gloria, Nan

Jeremy Kahn*
Dean, Devin

Melanie Arii Mah*
Kendra, Jenna

Matt Monaco**
Lorin

*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States

*Member of the A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program class of 2020, appearing in this production courtesy of Actors’ Equity Association

CREATIVE TEAM

By
Branden Jacobs-Jenkins

Directed by
Eric Ting

Scenic Designer
Lawrence E. Moten III

Costume Designer
Christine Crook

Lighting Designer
Wen-Ling Liao

Sound Designer
Madeleine Oldham

Props Design Associate
Jacquelyn Scott

Voice & Dialect Coach
Lisa Anne Porter

Movement Coach
Danyon Davis

Dramaturg
Joy Meads

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Full Monty Is Played Out


The Full Monty


(L-R) Jackson Thea, Stephen Kanaski, Chris Plank, James Schott, Arthur Scappaticci and Albert Hodge

Music and Lyrics by David Yazbek
Book by Terrence McNally

Direction & Choreography by Leslie Waggoner
Musical Direction by Jon Gallo

Bay Area Musicals
Victoria Theatre, San Francisco

Until March 15, 2020

Reviewed by Christine Okon

The 1997 British comedy film “The Full Monty,” about six unemployed factory workers who go all in to win money and self respect by becoming strippers, is full of charm, poignancy, and humor. The 2000 Americanized musical version, despite being nominated for several Tony awards in 2001, hasn’t aged well. Maybe it’s the times, maybe it’s the cliche-stuffed script, but Bay Area Musical’s production of “The Full Monty” loses momentum after the hot-pulsed opening strip tease by Julio Chavez as the sexy “Keno.”

(L-R) Christopher Apy, Chris Plank, Jackson Thea, and Adrienne Herro

Jerry Lukowski (James Schott, who tries hard and could use more voice training) is the de facto leader of a group of Buffalo steel workers wandering in the purgatory of the unemployed and disenfranchised. When he witnesses how excited his wife Pam (Desiree Juanes) and her friends become at a male Chippendales-style strip show, he hatches the idea that he, or any other man for that matter, could win money and adulation by becoming a stripper too. Fueled by his fantasy and his desire to win over his son Nathan (Christopher Apy), Jerry recruits other guys to join him, but the idea of stripping in front of a female audience triggers deep insecurities of competence, age, and body image, such as when Jerry’s overweight pal Dave Bukatisky (a lovable Chris Plank) balks at the prospect and veers toward the safe security guard job he thinks his wife prefers. 


(L-R) Front: Stephen Kanaski, Arthur Scappaticci, Albert Hodge
Rear: L-R) Back: Jackson Thea and Chris Plank 

What slows down “The Full Monty” is its predictability; one must sit through the dated, weighty script and male-female cliches to reach the end scene which, although fun, is a great relief.
.
Bay Area Musicals has a great track record for its wonderful musical productions, but unfortunately, “The Full Monty” falls flat.

"The Full Monty" Music & Lyrics by David Yazbek, Book by Terrence McNally, Direction & Choreography by Leslie Waggoner, Bay Area Musicals, Victoria Theatre, 2961 16th Street, San Francisco. Until March 15, 2020. Info: BAMsf.org

ALL PHOTOS by Ben Krantz Studio

CAST
Jerry Lukowski, James Schott
Nathan Lukowski, Christopher Apy
Pam Lukowski, Desiree Juanes
Teddy/Repo Man/Gary, Blake Weaver
Dave Bukatinsky, Chris Plank
Georgie Bukatinsky, Briel Pomerantz
Harold Nichols, Arthur Scappaticci
Vicki Nichols, Adrienne Herro
Malcolm Macgregor, Jackson Thea
Ethan Girard, Stephen Kanaski
Noah Simmons, Albert Hodge
Jeanette/Molly, Michelle Ianiro
Keno/Dance Instructor/Police Sergeant, Julio Chavez
Reg/Minister, David Richardson
Estelle Genovese, Jill Jacobs
Joanie/Betty, Shauna Satnick
Susan/Other Woman, Pauli N. Amornkul

ARTISTIC TEAM
Leslie Waggoner, Director/Choreographer
Jon Gallo, Music Director
Genevieve Pabon, Stage Manager
Frank Cardinale, Assnt. Stage Manager
Harley Greene, Assnt. Stage Manager
Matthew McCoy, Set Designer
Brooke Jennings, Costume Designer
Eric Johnson, Lighting Designer
Anton Hedman, Sound Designer
Tom O’Brien, Prop Designer
Stewart Lyle, Set Consultant & Technical Director
Jai Cha, Sound Board Op
Cat Knight, Production Manager
Alex Herlihy, Production/Marketing Intern

ORCHESTRA
Guitar: Jonathan Salazar
Bass: Kyle Wong
Drums: Kirk Duplantis
Key 2: John Conway
Key 1: Jon Gallo

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Turn Up that Dial!

Memphis

Loreigna Sinclair and Sean Okuniewicz Photo: Ben Krantz

Book and Lyrics by David Bryan
Music and Lyrics by Joe DiPietro
Directed by Brendan Simon
Berkeley Playhouse, Berkeley

Until March 15, 2020

Reviewed by Christine Okon

Wow. I am blown away by “Memphis” at Berkeley Playhouse in the Julia Morgan Theater.

Fantastic singing? Check.
Soul-moving choreography? Yes!
Superb direction? Praise be!
Double-dutch jump roping? Whooo-eey!

This Tony award winning musical (which had its inception at TheatreWorks in Mountain View) is inspired by the story of Memphis disc jockey Dewey Phillips, one of the first white DJ's to play black music in the racially-charged 1950s. Jim Crow could segregate people, but not radio airwaves.

From the beginning, “Memphis” pulls you into the music, dares you to sit still in your seat, largely due to Brendan Simon’s keen direction of the spirit of the play. It’s Saturday night in a swinging nightclub in the black section of town, and the opening number “Underground” brings us right into the mix. There’s dancing, laughing, and drinking as everyone lets loose. The live band led by Daniel Alley lays down a beat that pulses through the scene.

Into this segregated space walks a gawkish, bespectacled white guy, Huey Calhoun (Sean Okuniewicz) who is drawn to the music he loves. Okuniewicz is jaw droppingly good, and his geeky appearance belies the powerhouse singing, acting, and dancing talent that bubbles forth like a secret spring. He is a joy to watch, and there could not have been a better casting choice.

Huey approaches the owner of the record store that caters white music (e.g., Perry “Coma”) to white customers and insists that he can increase sales by spinning 45rpm discs of black music, which he does. The owner doesn’t understand black music but he does money, and gives Huey a job.

Loreigna Sinclair and Sean Okuniewicz Photo: Ben Krantz

Huey’s mission to bring black music to the masses leads him into closer contact with the amazing singer Felicia Farrell (Loreigna Sinclair, who leaves no doubt that her character is headed to stardom), along with her brother Del Ray (solid Jordan Olivier Verde) and friends like “big man” Bobby (Carious Mayberry) who spins across the stage like a wild sparkler to prove that he’s the guy who gives “Big Love.”

Loreigna Sinclair  Photo: Ben Krantz

Teenagers starved for stimulation crave the music that moves them, and Huey eventually soars to the top DJ spot in Memphis while Felicia’s career also accelerates. Such jubilance threatens the established order of racism and hatred that have a grip on whites like Huey’s mother Gladys (Deborah Del Mastro) and other more dangerous and harmful forces, some of which are sadly still with us.

Music sets the gears of change in motion, a change for the better as expressed in the song beautifully and soulfully sung by Gator (John-David Randle) at the end of Act I:

Say a prayer that change is a comin',
Say a prayer that hope is 'round the bend.
And if you pray that change is a comin', oh Jesus
Then may what you pray come true,
Amen.

In  “Change Don't Come Easy,” Del Mastro makes Huey’s mother more likable and funny as she sings the gospel of rhythm and blues, and we know she’s been redeemed. That change doesn’t come easy is wonderfully demonstrated in a scene where two girls, one white and one black (Claire Noel Pearson and Kamaria McKinney), do double dutch jump roping together. (If you’ve ever tried doing this, you’ll marvel at the skill and coordination needed.)

Memphis is where Martin Luther King was murdered, but it is also the city “where all the streets are paved with soul” and music is the past, present, and future. "Memphis" the musical brings that perspective home.

"Memphis," book and lyrics by David Bryan, lyrics by Joe DiPietro, directed by Brendan Simon. Berkeley Playhouse, Berkeley, through 3/15/20. Info: http://berkeleyplayhouse.org




CAST
HUEY CALHOUN  Sean Okuniewicz
FELICIA FARRELL  Loreigna Sinclair
DEL RAY FARRELL Jourdan Olivier-Verde
GLADYS CALHOUN Deborah Del Mastro
MR SIMMONS  CJ Smith
GATOR  Jon-David Randle
BOBBY Cadarious Mayberry
MR COLLINS / DJ / FATHER / GORDON GRANT Charles Woodson Parker
BUCK WILEY / MARTIN HOLTON / PHOTOGRAPHER Jordan Smith
WAILIN JOE / REV HOBSON / DJ / TRIO / ENSEMBLE Marcel Saunders
CLARA / MOTHER Jennifer Stark
FRANK DRYER / ENSEMBLE Joe Ayers
ETHEL / SELMA / ENSEMBLE Chanel Tilghman
PERRY COMO / ENSEMBLE  Z Hansen
BESSIE / ENSEMBLE  Maya Phillips
LAVERNE / ENSEMBLE  Jennifer Frazier
TEENAGER / ENSEMBLE  Hanah Rose Nardone
DOUBLE DUTCH GIRL / ENSEMBLE  Claire Noelle Pearson
DOUBLE DUTCH GIRL / ENSEMBLE  Kamaria McKinney
TRIO / ENSEMBLE  Montel Anthony Nord
TRIO / ENSEMBLE  Jeffrey May Hyche


CREATIVE TEAM                             
Book and lyrics by David Bryan; lyrics by Joe DiPietro
Directed by Brendan Simon
Music Director Daniel Alley
Scenic Designer Sarah Phykitt
Lighting Designer Cameron Pierce
Costume Designer Lisa Danz
Sound Designer Lyle Barrere
Choreographer Christina Lazo




Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Wakey Up Before It's Too Late

Wakey, Wakey 

Kathryn Smith-McGlynn and Tony Hale Photo: Kevin Berne

Written by Will Eno
Directed by Anne Kauffman
A.C.T Geary Stage, San Francisco

Until February 16, 2020

Reviewed by Christine Okon

Wakey Wakey” begins with Guy (Tony Hale) inexplicably lying face down on the stage floor, waiting for a cue to begin. He climbs into a wheelchair and, like a little kid excitedly describing his first day in school to whoever will listen, begins to unspool a rambling commentary of quirky observations of little moments that delight him: cute YouTube animals, scenic landscapes, home movies, a magic eye optical illusion, and countless fast-cut images streaming on a jumbo projection screen. We are immersed in visual and auditory media whether we like it or not. Hale is engaging as Guy, a loner starved for interaction and addicted to digital technology who shares non-stop, almost desperate, bemused observations.

But he is not alone. Lisa (Kathryn Smith-McGlynn) the caretaker enters; she helps Guy but does not patronize or condescend. They banter in random, freewheeling conversation about the meaning of existence and the preciousness of each moment, and we soon deduce that Guy is at the end of his life. With little time left, he scrambles to harvest small, joyful seconds that are so easy to take for granted: little kids playing, a family picnic, a parade, flowers that fill the screen, a star-filled night sky.

Tony Hale  Photo: Kevin Berne
So yes, the message is clear. Stop and smell the roses, cherish the moment, appreciate what you have, be in the Now. Celebrate life! With balloons! (which actually drop from above to cover the stage. All of this--the images, music, and lighting--are literally in your face. The visual bombardment barely allows us room to think or breathe. And it is this aspect of the play that will divide the audience. Those inclined to swipe left for continuously new sensory input might be excited, while others may see that when technology overpowers meaning, the effect can be gimmicky.

Wakey, Wakey” is like a mashup of the cinematic tone poem “Koyaanisqatsi,” the life lessons of “Desiderata,” and the silly giggles of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” Despite the solid acting and innovative staging, "Wakey, Wakey" prods the audience to respond to a surprise electric shock from an ungrounded outlet.

Jeff Wittekiend, LeRoy S. Graham III, Kathryn Smith-McGlynn, Emma Van Lare, Dinah Berkeley






Prior to “Wakey, Wakey” is “The Substitution,” a new A.C.T-commissioned short play also written by Eno that takes place in a community college classroom. It features Kathryn Smith-McGlynn as Ms. Forester, a substitute teacher who inadvertently widens the minds of the students who are there for driver’s ed. The cast of this play, comprised of students from A.C.T’s MFA program, is solid, showing a range of types. Whether the two plays are linked is unclear, which may cause confusion.

"Wakey, Wakey," written by Will Eno, directed by Anne Kaufmann. A.C.T. Geary Stage, San Francisco, through 2/16/20. Info: http://www.act-sf.org


CAST for “Wakey, Wakey”
Tony Hale*  Guy
Kathryn Smith-McGlynn* Lisa

CAST for "The Substitution"
Kathryn Smith-McGlynn* Ms. Forester
Dinah Berkeley** Jennifer
LeRoy S. Graham III** Bobby
Emma Van Lare**   Marisol
Jeff Wittekiend**  Jimmy

* Member, Actor’s Equity Association
** Member, A.C.T’s MFA Program Class of 2020

CREATIVE TEAM                     
Written by Will Eno
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Photography:  Kevin Berne
Scenic and Costume Designer Kimie Nishikawa
Lighting Designer Russell H. Champa
Sound and Projection Designer Leah Gelpe
Choreographer Joe Goode
Voice Coach Christine Adaire
Movement Coach Danyon Davis
Dramaturg Joy Meads


Friday, January 24, 2020

A Life's Journey

Mimi’s Suitcase


Ana Bayat Photo: Bob Hsiang

Written and performed by Ana Bayat
Directed by Elyse Singer
Theatre of Yugen at NOHSpace, San Francisco

Until Jan 25, 2020

Reviewed by Christine Okon

Our stories are prized possessions that we may or may not keep hidden in our own baggage that sometimes weighs us donw. In her autobiographical solo show “Mimi’s Suitcase,” Ana Bayat unpacks her experiences as an Iranian teenager dealing with radical changes to her country and herself. Initially coached by W. Kamau Bell, Bayat has honed and polished “Mimi’s Suitcase” over the years, bringing it to audiences around the world and winning prizes at many festivals.

"Mimi’s Suitcase"is the story of a girl growing up, facing the challenges to individuality and resilience any girl encounters coupled with the added stress of a country flipped upside down by revolution.

Ana Bayat Photo: Diaspora Arts Connection

Born in Iran in a time of freedom for women and cultural expression, Mimi spends a happy childhood in Barcelona while her father pursues his wild dream of a Hollywood career that never pans out. Forced to return to Tehran for economic reasons after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Mimi and her family stepped into an alternate universe that prohibits any Western influence and punishes women for seemingly trivial acts such as not covering their heads. Like any teenage girl who just wants to have fun, Mimi is shocked but still stays rebellious as she and her friends secretly listened to forbidden music by Madonna, Duran Duran, Michael Jackson, and other Western media, showing that joy may be underground but not killed.

Bayat’s story is as rich, diverse, and entertaining as the 27 different characters she fluently voices in four languages (English, Spanish, French and Persian/Farsi) with English supertitles. She celebrates her comedic and dramatic range as she captures the intonations, faces, and gestures of girlfriends chatting about a cute boy to the police officer who pounds threateningly on the door. Bayat moves from scene to scene effortlessly, and we’re right there with her.

Video projections (Tyler Gothier) and animations (Celine Moteau) enhance the stage in some scenes, adding to the visualization of Mimi’s life; in the home movie clip of her father astride a white stallion in an urban environment, he seems to be saying “no matter where you are, Mimi, you always have your dream.”

Although polished to a bright shine, "Mimi’s Suitcase" draws on the audience’s energy to deepen its impact and meaning, and like life itself, is a work in progress.

"Mimi’s Suitcase," written and performed by Ana Bayat, directed by Elyse Singer. Theatre of Yugen at NOHSpace, San Francisco, through January 25, 2020. Info: https://www.anabayat.com/mimissuitcase



Wednesday, January 22, 2020

A Restless Ache for Home

Noura

Valentino Herrera, Mattico David, Denmo Ibrahim
Maya Nazzal, Abraham Makany Photo: Kevin Berne

By Heather Raffo

Directed by Kate Bergstrom
Marin Theatre Company, Marin
with Golden Thread Productions

Extended to Febrary 9, 2020

Reviewed by Christine Okon

A refugee is a restless soul, caught in the gray space between a lost home and an uncertain future. The search for the sense of place, both physical and psychic, is at the heart of “Noura,” Heather Raffo’s heartfelt play about Christian Iraqi refugees who fled war-shattered Mosul to establish a new life in New York City.

It is Christmas Eve in a New York apartment dominated by a huge, festive tree that magnifies the claustrophobic space designed by Adam Rigg. New passports have arrived in the mail for Noura, her husband Tareq and their young son Yazen bearing the Americanized names of Nora, Tim, and Alex. Becoming an American citizen does not quell Noura’s ache for her homeland and culture, and despite Tareq’s desire to celebrate, an agitated Noura escapes to the patio to relish a cigarette and some alone time in the falling snow.

Denmo Ibrahim Photo: Kevin Berne

Denmo Ibrahim creates a powerful Noura, a vibrant, intelligent, conflicted, and passionate woman who paces like a tiger in a cage she will never get used to. She does not share the easy optimism of Tareq (Mattico David) who tries to make the best of his new life as a way to counter the horror of his past as a wartime surgeon. David is convincing as a man who aims to be a good father, husband and American citizen while still exhibiting old cultural attitudes toward female passion. As Yazen, Valentino Herrera plays a typical American kid who has no notion of previous suffering while he plays video games.

All of the pieces are in place for a seemingly happy life, but Noura is torn. Christmas dinner guests arrive, including Rafa’a (Abraham Makany) who is in love with Noura, and a newly arrived Mosul refugee named Maryam (Maya Nazzal) who is tough, self-assured, and pregnant, and to whom Noura gives special attention, the reasons for which are disclosed later. Trained as an architect, Noura tries to create a livable structure for her life and those involved in it, but the foundation is as ephemeral as memory. We don’t totally understand what Noura wants, but we feel her frustration.

Abraham Makany and Denmo Ibrahim Photo: Kevin Berne

Expertly directed by Kate Bergstrom, “Noura” is a powerful, moving glimpse of a woman trapped by custom and limitations of society and culture. The heart of this production is Denmo Ibrahim, depicting a woman who cannot bring herself to rest where she is, stranded between the past and future. This plight of the refugee is mirrored in other productions by the coproduction company Golden Thread Productions, focusing on Middle Eastern plays.

Although the overall effect is moving, “Noura” ends with an uneven pace as surprise questions and resolutions are introduced. Still, it is a very enlightening revelation of refugees and how they deal with challenges to their resilience and connection.

"Noura," written by Heather Raffo, directed by Kate Bergstrom. Marin Theatre Company and Golden Thread Productions, Marin, through February 9, 2020.  Info: info@marintheatre.org

CAST
Mattico David*  -  Tareq/Tim
Valentino Bertolucci Herrera  -  Yazen/Alex
Denmo Ibrahim*  -  Noura/Nora
Abraham Makany*  -  Rafa’a
Maya Nazzal  -  Maryam
* Member of Actors Equity Association

CREATIVE TEAM
Heather Raffo Playwright
Kate Bergstrom Director
Liz Matos* Stage Manager
Adam Rigg  Scenic Designer
Kate Boyd Lighting Designer
Anna Oliver Costume Designer
Nihan Yesil Sound Designer
Nakissa Etemad Dramaturg
Torange Yeghiazarian Cultural Consultant
Lynne Soffer Dialect Coach

+ Member, United Scenic Artists
^ Member, Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers