You can change the color of your hair. You can cultivate new friends in new places. In some desperate instances you can also erase your fingerprints. But if you are escaping from one country to find solace in another, even then, you can’t run away from yourself. That’s part of Noura’s reality as she travels a complex truth as a now citizen of U.S. “I don’t know how to let go and hold on at the same time.”
Heather Raffo’s new play, “Noura” currently on the Sheryl and Harvey White Stage in Balboa Park through Oct. 20th, now in a West Coast premiere, is touted as being a takeoff on Ibsen’s “A Doll House”. I’ll leave the comparisons up to you. They are there, but you’ll have to dig deep.
It’s eight years since now immigrants Noura/Nora, her husband Tareq/Tim immigrated to the United States. Yazen/Alex Nora and Tim’s son bordering on preteen is completely assimilated and as long as he has his play-station, he hasn’t a care in the world.
|Cast of "Noura"|
They have just received their new U.S. passports, a reason for celebration and… its Christmas Eve. Best yet, they are expecting a visitor from Iraq, a young 26 year-old college student, Maryam. As an orphan girl Noura has been sponsoring her from birth to live in safety in a Convent in Iraq. The nuns were her mother’s.
The ethnic food is prepared and waiting in the oven, the gifts are lined under an upside down Christmas tree (Andromache Chalfant), and anxiety fills the yet to be furnished apartment now being brought to life by the highly anticipated dinner guest.
Still, tension fills the air and there is an undercurrent of unspoken conversation, secrets, old and new and hidden fears between now Americanized Nora and her husband Tim. With them is an old and dear friend Rafa’a. They’ve known each other since childhood.
Nora and her husband are Chaldean Christians and Rafa’a is Muslim Iraqi. They all left the better parts of themselves behind (Libraries and, book lined shelves that were burned and destroyed, family members that they have yet to be in touch with and lot’s ‘what if’s?) to escape to new way of life, without fear of guns, chaos, massacres and ISIS.
The trio are best friends all refugees from Mosul and Baghdad. Noura was an architect in Mosul and is now tutoring to earn money. Tim was a former surgeon now working in the ER after working in a Subway sandwich shop before he got his passport. Rafa’a is an OBGYN as he was in Mosul.
|(in foreground) Lameece Issaq as Noura and Isra Elsalihie as Maraym|
Their world comes to a screeching halt when the 26 year old Maryam shows up at their apartment pregnant and unmarried and pretty much her own as an independent woman. No she doesn’t have a husband, she doesn’t need one, thank you. She’s studying at Stanford as a physicist working for the D.O.D. on weapons contracts and making good money as they are paying for her education as well…and she plans to take care of this baby alone.
Maryam’s openness about not being married unlocks some old wounds for Tariq going back to when he and Noura were dating as teenagers courting: “You were too easy. You were supposed to reject me.”
This whole reveal opens up a can of worms for Tariq/ Tim and Noura/Nora as both try to navigate in their new adopted country while keeping traditions alive from their Mother country. “I’m trying to hold on to one small piece of my past together. If I let go it dies/ with me.”
Raffo, a graduate of the Old Globe and University of San Diego Shiley Graduate Theatre Program is an award winning playwright and actress. Her father grew up in Iraq and worked with Arab-American women in New York. Raffo herself was born in Michigan. “Noura” received its world premiere in 2017 at the Women’s Voices Theatre Festival.
To say this is solely a play for women would be an understatement but it does zero in on some dated ideas that women are still subservient to men in many cultures including our own. My thoughts go to the men who make laws restricting women from being in charge of their own bodies and then accuse them for playing the victim.
|Mattico David and Lamacee Issaq|
Under director Joanna Mckeon, Raffo’s ninety minute play has so much going for it and in it that at times it feels as though there’s at least another play wanting to come out. Lameece Issaq who plays Noura, the central character and one the conflicted to the core about who she is and where she belongs, straddles the culture- divide as both a sympathetic and angry woman still at odds with herself.
Seeing the world through her eyes is the at the heart of Raffo’s play and oft times that conflict gives her too much of an edge as a very angry and defiant woman. None-the -less, she succeeds at making us pay attention.
As her husband Mattico David is very convincing and at the first a likeable Tareq. He is caring, loving, soft and gentle and pretty much neutral when siding with Noura about their son Yazen (an adorable Giovanni Cozic). He disapproves of her smoke too much but she does is anyway and…he wants another child, a daughter, that if we pay attention, is a turnoff for Noura.
It’s when he walks back into his Old World shoes during a time when he and Noura were courting and she was ‘too easy’ that turned the tide against him for yours truly. “I’m not honorable? After twenty years of marriage?”
That thinking and a series of events that follows, while long ago past, eats at Noura. One must assume that the ambivalent culmination of events rests on her husband’s shoulders but it's Noura that takes action, leaving us with a question mark at plays end. You be the judge.
Fajer Kaisi, is at the least the most likeable and sensible of the trio. He shows compassion, love for Noura that he has had all along. Isra Elsalihe’ Maryam supports a true independent woman who thinks she alone knows what’s best and Giovanni Cozic is just right as Alex, a certified American.
Driscoll Otto’s lighting satisfies the changing moods, Dina El-Aziz costumes fit in with the themes of the play. Nomatter how difficult the technical obstacles in this theatre in the round, and how trying to work out the kinks, Melanie Chen Cole’s sound design never did satisfy. Between the talk over music and conversations (David Huber is dialect coach) with Noura and with one or two characters’ back to the audience, it was impossible for yours truly to have a satisfying listening experience.
|Giovanni Cozic and Fajer Kaisi|
For those of us ‘natives’, it might be a little overwhelming to try to understand why someone who has escaped war and destruction and risked everything to have immigrated here and yet would want to go back to a country destroyed and ravaged by war seems almost incomprehensible, but again, unless you have walked in their shoes, don’t judge.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Oct. 20th
Organization: The Old Globe
Production Type: Drama
Where: 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Ticket Prices: Stare at $30.00
Venue: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre
Photo: Jim Cox