Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Who & the What ***

Winning the Pulitzer Prize for Drama must have put a lot of pressure on playwright Ayad Akhtar to come up with another play that is equally impressive. While his new play at LCT3 lacks the explosive power of “Disgraced,” it does have much to recommend it. Afzal (Bernard White) is a wealthy widowed Pakistani immigrant who has risen from cabdriver to owner of the largest taxi fleet in Atlanta. His two adult daughters are Zarina (Madine Malouf), a bookish, somewhat aloof Harvard grad who has been working on a novel for years, and Mahwish (Tala Ashe), her slightly flighty younger sister who would like to marry but cannot because tradition demands that the older daughter marry first. When Zarina wanted to marry a non-Muslim some years past, Afzal forbade her and she acquiesced. Unbeknownst to her, he has recently set up a profile for her on and even impersonated her to meet prospects he deemed worthy. One of them is Eli (Gregg Keller, "Belleville"), a white convert to Islam who is imam of a poor congregation, founder of a soup kitchen, and also a plumber. In the second act, which takes place a couple of years later, both daughters have married. Zarina has finally finished her novel (its title is the title of the play, which doesn’t explain a lot) which deals with the life of Mohammed as a flawed human rather than a sanitized prophet, as well as with the constricted role of women in Islam. When her family discovers the nature of her novel and considers the devastating effect its publication is likely to have on them (shades of “Other Desert Cities”), a deep fracture occurs. The well-crafted first act crackles with snappy, often comic, dialogue between pairs of characters. The play’s two scenes between the sisters are especially fine. The second act is not as tightly knit and the big confrontation scene fizzles a bit. Unlike “Disgraced” which peaked with an ensemble scene, the current play seems to flounder when more than two people are on stage. The acting is mostly strong. Jack Magaw’s three-module set with filigreed panels suggestive of Muslim art, is quite attractive and highly functional. Emily Rebholz’s costumes work well too. Kimberly Senior, who also directed “Disgraced,” is effective again here. I found it well worth my time despite its imperfections. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes including intermission.


Lila Shoshkes said...

We saw this interesting play because we enjoyed the authors "Disgrace". The title is a bit awkward, but the performance, the wonderful actors, the staging, etc kept our attention fixed on the subject of women in Islam and the tensions between the generations. It is a bit like Fiddler on the Roof, a classic family drama. We would recommend this play and appreciate the effort to produce it. Lila S.

Anonymous said...

Bob, your review describes exactly my experience seeing the play. The conflicting ideas were continually interesting. I agree with you that the play needs a stronger ending.