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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review

We've had a civilization here for five thousand years. They should call us "first world" instead of "third world" like we are not even on the same planet.
— Samar

(l-r) Donnetta Lavinia Grays and Hend Ayoub (Photo: Kevin Sprague)
Veils by Tom Coash set in Egypt just prior to the Arab Spring revolutions is a stunningly seamless examination of cross-cultural attitudes and identity not only between Muslim and non-Muslim, but within the Muslim world itself. Barrington Stage Company has chosen to extend its season with this riveting drama focusing on two Muslim women students— one a devout African-American, Intisar, and the other the liberal, media-savvy Egyptian, Samar. As their belief systems meet and then collide, the metaphor for this tension is the potent and controversial symbol—the veil worn by many Muslim women — as the audience will discover, for a variety of reasons. But while Intisar welcomes it as a connection to her faith and a proud representation of her devoutness, Samar sees it as a restriction on her womanhood and right to self-determination.

Donnetta Lavinia Grays as Intisar has taken this pilgrimage, a year abroad at a fictional American/Egyptian university, to devote herself to the study of Muslim identity. Excited to live for the first time in a mostly Muslim world, she eagerly shares her hopes with Samar to study with the great imams and even to break the Muslim glass ceiling by becoming a female muezzin—the prayer caller — a role forbidden to women.

Hend Ayoub's Samar is often hilarious as a vivacious, fun-loving blogger who, as an Egyptian Muslim, wants to share the dream of western women—to be free to choose her own destiny. She feels betrayed by more devout Muslim women who take the veil for whatever reason, either devout or traditional.

The costumes by Arnulfo Maldonado help to emphasize the fundamental differences in the young women's philosophies. The two actresses run with the rapidly moving dialogue and slip back and forth from English to Arabic without hesitation or loss of understanding. After initially forming a strong friendship, they suffer a terrific falling out. Eventually there is a truce and they decide to blog their differences.

A huge screen by designer C. Andrew Bauer adds digital projections which act as a backdrop for scene changes and other media requirements. Through its use we view these two profoundly talented actresses, their every gesture and facial movement magnified and drawing us into their characters' internal struggles amid the swirling culture and counter-culture ideas radiating from Cairo's pulsating metropolis.

Under the direction of Leah C. Gardiner, the story holds the audience in rapt silence as it builds to an ever-intensifying crisis, not only between the two roommates but between them and the super-heated political fray in which they find themselves mired. What each woman will endure for her belief makes this battle a harrowing and heartfelt experience.

The lighting by Michael Chybowski and sound design and original music by Matt Sherwin also moves us from the light-hearted opening of college life with American slang, club music, the heady mixture of the Egyptian streets to the ever-menacing riots and darker political drama. Coash, who spent four years at the American University in Cairo, was surprised by encountering foreign Muslims who disliked the Egyptian experience. He said they felt marginalized by the Egyptian Muslims. He decided to humanize the conflict and clashes within the Muslim culture and used the veil as the hot button to explore global and social issues. Barrington Stage has brought together this exceptionally talented group of artists to create a 100-minute electrifying theatrical event and keep us enthralled to its wrenching conclusion.
Veils by Tom Coash
Directed by Leah C. Gardiner
Cast: Donnetta Lavinia Grays (Intisar,) Hend Ayoub (Samar)
Scenic and Costume Design: Arnulfo Maldonado
Lighting Design: Michael Chybowski
Projection Designer: C. Andrew Bauer
Sound Design and Original Music: Matt Sherwin
Stage Manager: Renee Lutz
Running Time: Two hours including intermission
Barrington Stage Company Boyd-Quinson Mainstage, 30 Union St., Pittsfield, MA
Tickets: start at $20; $15.00-$50.00 (413) 236-8888;
Performances: Wed/Thurs at 7pm; Fri/Sat at 8pm; Sun at 3pm
From 10/1/15; Opens: 10/4/15. Closes: 10/18/15
Review by Gloria Miller based on performance 10/4/15
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