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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review
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.