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Heather Raffo, who wrote Noura, currently at the Shakespeare Theatre/Lansburgh, is of Iraqi descent. She plays the central character, a strong but nostalgic woman who is determined to hold on to the traditions of her native country, and particularly her home town, Mosul. Her husband, Tariq/Tim, is determined to be assimilated into their new lives in New York City. Although they are Christians, religion is not the basis by which they live.
Nabil Elouahabi gives a forceful performance as Tariq. Having left the past behind, he accepts his life of diminished circumstances. His scenes with Noura, bring to a head their heated dialogue of past and present conflicts.
It took eight years for the couple to get American citizenship and passports which leads Noura to fantasize about going home to Mosul. In Mosul Tariq was a surgeon and Noura was an architect. In New YorkTariq works at menial jobs. Noura sketches a dream home for Tariq's five sisters while staying home and emotionally living in the past. It's a project that will never be built.
While snow is falling outside, the couple is joined by their son, Yazen/Alex in their stylish New York apartment for a Christmas celebration that includes a laden Christmas tree and traditional Iraqi food that Noura has been preparing for weeks. But Yazen/Alex cares little for tradition. He'd rather spend time with Play Station than backgammon, as his parents and their parents did. Gabriel Brumberg who plays Yazen/Alex is a very promising actor. He is suitably teenage: long hair, unkempt appearance, a child when he lies down for a nap with his mother, almost an adult when he defies his father.
Also present at the Christmas feast is Rafa'a, Matthew David, an old friend from Mosul who spends a lot of time with Tariq, Noura and Yazen. His history is less grim. He left Mosul before the city was destroyed taking with him enough money to set up a comfortable life as an obstetrician in New York City. He remains a bachelor but his past includes a surprise. Matthew David infuses this part with great pathos.
What follows is a not very original plot device, the arrival of a stranger. In this case it is Maryam, an orphan brought up by nuns in Mosul but now on scholarship at Stanford. She is defiantly independent and more than ready to embrace her new life in the U.S. While Noura dreams about returning to Mosul, it falls to Maryam, to point out that the city and the life she left no longer exist. Maryam as played by Dahlia Azama is a tough cookie. There is little doubt that she will be successful in her new home.
Adding greatly to the ambiance is Andrew Lieberman's symbolic semi-circular set whose walls resemble book shelves devoid of books. Masha Tsimring designed the unobtrusive lighting.
There is a sense of casual, unforced rhetoric held in check by director Joanna Settle. Noura, loosely based on Ibsen's tragic heroine Nora in A Doll's House, is a sad, thought-provoking take on the lives of refugees (not just from Iraq) forced to adjust their lives and expectations.
Noura by Heather Raffo
Directed by Joanna Settle; Cast: Heather Raffo (Noura); Nabil Elouahabi (Tareq/Tim); Matthew David (Rafa'a); Dahlia Azama (Maryam); Gabriel Brumberg (Yazen/Alex); Ni Qasey (Recorded Voices).
Scenic Design by Andrew Lieberman
Costume Design by Tilly Grimes
Lighting Design by Masha Tsimring
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Shakespeare Theatre Company/Lansburgh; shakespearetheatre.org.
February 6 to March 11, 2018.
Reviewed by Susan Davidson at February 15, 2018 performance.
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