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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Both families can afford to send their children to college; and it's at that great place for romance as well as learning to blossom, that Emina Almedin (Tala Ashe) and Sam Osman (Babak Tafti) meet and fall in love. While Emina and Sam have their own identity issues to work out, their love affair sets off a larger drama involving everyone in their familial sphere.
The most consequential of the larger dramatis personae are Emina and Sam's parents whose feelings of discomfort and hostility are inevitable given that, despite similar backgrounds their religious and cultural views and life styles are world apart. Peter Osman and his wife Carmen Osman (Lanna Joffrey) have remained true to their Muslim faith and culture, while Raif and his wife Naja (Heather Raffo) have raised their daughters 21-year-old Emina and 24-yearold Aisa (Francis Benhamou) in an aggressively Americanized home.
Raif has not only cut all ties to his roots, but is disdainful of those who "hold themselves apart" and, instead of integrating more fully into the American mainstream, tend to raise their children within their own "little tribal enclaves." No mosques and prayer rituals for Raif; no arranged marriages for his daughters. Thus he is essentially the "Profane" of Dohrn's title, which the dictionary defines as "having or showing disrespect for religious things."
You're hardly going to be surprised that when Emina brings Sam, the love of her young life, home for Thanksgiving, that Raif doesn't welcome him with open arms. Seeing Emina involved with a young man who Raif is sure will eventually become like his father and stifle her independence is a blow to the pride he takes in having passed on his enlightened views to his children.
Actually, Emina felt something was missing from that enlightened, make-your-own-choices life style, before she met Sam. She was already embarked on a voyage into religion when she met him and was therefore more than ready to embrace and be embraced by his large, close-knit family and their more observant ways. That's not to say, however, that she wanted to abandon her own family— nor that Sam, whose own need to break with a tradition he no longer believes in (the play's only surprise twist) doesn't still want and need his parents' love and approval.
Emina uses all the argumentative power her dad has encouraged her to develop, to persuade him to get to know Sam and see that not every Muslim man eventually turns his home into a "patriarchal dictatorship." She also reminds him that for all his presenting himself to the world as no different from any other native born, all-American dad, he's also conveniently played the "immigrant card" to promote success as a novelist reflecting on the immigrant's sense of otherness and exile.
The all-American family holiday, Thanksgiving, is an apt starting point for this basically familiar story of a love affair complicated by incompatibilities between the lovers' families. What's new and timely here is the Muslin-American background, that Emina's marriage can be seen as a rebellion from rather toward modernity.
Dohrn engagingly develops his story without making anyone a villain. These are two loving families who want their children to be happy. Even, Raif, who's the most fiercely opposed to the marriage, tries for the sake of his daughter and more accepting wife to make the best of a, to him, bad situation. However, since he can't quite keep a lid on his negative feelings, the ultra liberal Raif finds himself the traditionalist or "Tevya in his own house."
Of course, the Osman parents too aren't 100% gung-ho about the nuptials. It turns out that they're in on that previously mentioned mystery twist concerning Sam that turns out to be what triggers the interesting though rather hard to buy into climactic second act scene.
The playwright cleverly reverses the attitudes and behaviors of the characters in each family. In the Osman household it's Carmen who's more nervous about potential problems and Peter who is, like Naja, more positive. What's more, the Almedin's culturally rich, free from conservative restraints life style has hardly kept their marriage problem free nor their older daughter from finding herself and living on her own. On the other hand, there isn't a hint of that "patriarchal dictatorship" in the Osman home. The parents have a loving marriage and wearing head scarves and being religious does not preclude their valuing education and success for their children. Perhaps none of this would seem a bit too facile if some of the characters weren't rather sketchily developed and some of the plot holes were filled in.
To Zayd Dohrn's credit, he continues to use the world around us to create timely plays that don't rely on easy happy endings to complex beginnings. Kip Fagan too deserves credit for supervising a beautifully staged production and eliciting believable performances from the 7-member cast, all of whose roles are further clarified by costumer Jessica Pabst.
Takashi Kati's beautiful, narrative and theme supporting scenic design for the Alemin's book-lined Greenwich Village apartment and the Osmans' expensive but homogenized suburban home is richly enhanced by Matt Frey's lighting. Not to be overlooked in handing out compliments are the stagehands who do an amazing job implementing the transition from one home to another during the intermission. The Profane's dialogue lacks the poetry of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet which Emina and Sam's clashing families may bring to mind. However, this very relatable and welcome inside look at the lives of a group of Americans who currently find themselves the unhappy center of harsh new approaches to battling terrorism. Raif's seeing all conservative Muslim-Americans as women's rights abusers makes for an apt parallel with those who view all Muslims as potential terrorists. Other Dohrn plays reviewd at Curtainup
Outside People Sick - NJ
Sick - Berkshires
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The Profane by Zayd Dohrn
Directed by Kip Fagan.
Cast: Tala Ashe (Emina), Francis Benhamou (Asia/Dania), Ramsey Faragallah(Peter), Ali Reza Farahnakian (Raif), Lanna Joffrey (Carmen), Heather Raffo (Naja)
Scenic design by Takeshi Kata
Costume design by Jessica Pabst
Lighting design by Matt Frey
Sound design by Brandon Wolcott
Stage Manager: Shane Schnetzler
Running Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, with 1 intermission
Playwrights Horizon's Peter Jay Sharp Theater 416 West 42nd Street
From 3/17/17; opening 4/09/17; closing 5/07/17.
Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 2 & 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 & 7PM.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at April 9th press preview
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