Playwright Heather Raffo, who also stars in her own work, packs so much into her plot, including a surprise twist, that the end result is rather diffuse. There are commanding ingredients for an audience to contemplate, but the play doesn’t have sufficient impact to leave one deeply moved.
However, in this Playwrights Horizons production, in association with Shakespeare Theatre Company, there are many striking moments tied to the underlying theme of Iraqi refugees trying to set up a new life in the United States. We see a struggle to hold on to cultural traditions and past roots in Mosul while attempting to immerse into the new environment and future life in New York.
But Noura, a meaty role that Raffo apparently has written for herself, is concealing something from her husband, Tareq (Nabil Elouahabi) as they prepare for a Christmas dinner. Included is their son, Yazen (Liam Campora), and long-time friend Rafa’a (Matthew David), who, we learn, has had a crush on Noura. Something else we learn is that Tareq is an old-fashioned male chauvinist, who, while he was perfectly willing to have sex with Noura before marriage, resents the fact that she allowed it.
The guest who arrives is the exuberant university student Maryam (Dahlia Azama), who, we are informed, is an orphan rescued and brought to America by Noura out of the goodness of her heart and desire to save a life.
Director Joanna Settle keeps the busy dialogue brimming as we get portraits of the various characters and their interplay. There is amusing attention to the preparation and serving of traditional dishes, but in a more serious vein Settle is meticulous in building an atmosphere ripe for puncturing.
By the time the inevitable revelation emerges, the lives of Noura and the others are jolted, but Noura in particular is left painfully exposed in attempting to cope with all that she has wrought in terms of her past and her deception.
If only we could feel more deeply about the outcome. At Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-279-4200. Reviewed December 11, 2018.