Ashe & Babak Tafti photos by Joan Marcus
By Eugene Paul
working playwright Zayd Dohrn is both the beneficiary of Playwrights Horizons
richly handsome production values and victim of their staging shortcomings,
blessings and curses of the great, collaborative art which makes up Theater.
If all aspects are not at the same level of competence – I was going to say
“perfection” but that’s a mite blue sky – the play does not receive its full
and wished for realization. Which is frequently the case. On rare occasion,
the play becomes a soaring success beyond its playwright’s dreams, if that’s
possible, through the bounty of every contribution. The most crucial level of
contribution is in the actors, and if any of them does not possess his or her
full set of basic skills in addition to talent, the play and the playwright and
the audience all suffer.
Tala Ashe, Babak Tafti, Heather Raffo, Ramsey Faragallah, Ali Reza
& Lanna Joffrey
what is currently happening to The Profane. What can – and should be –
an engrossing drama is getting short shrift. Not that this is the only case,
either. Nor is the oft resorted to justification that new works are in
shake-down and these things are to be expected. Not so. And before we get around
to apportioning blots for shortcomings, let us start with the good: Dohrn’s
play is a refreshingly needed look at different Muslim families dealing with
their lives in America, a big, topical, controversy filled, heaving, seething
knot of subjects, especially now with a dangerously ignorant, dynamic
megalomaniac as president. Maybe Dohrn’s play would grab us without this
looming factor but there’s no question as to why this play is being presented
here, before it’s ready. Playwrights Horizons exists to bring new play, new
playwrights to the light, especially if it’s hot light. Then – why not do it
the physical production is stunning. Set designer Takeshi Kata has elaborated a
warm, bookish setting for our secular Muslim family and a serenely beautiful
living room for our religiously observant Muslim home, visual pleasures
enhancing the play. Wonderful. Broadway, in spitting distance, couldn’t do
better. Jessica Pabst’s costumes simply belong as well as tell. There’s clear
awareness of competition against the Big Guys for eyes and ears and tushes and
tickets. Sorry, if that feels showbiz and not sacred mission: plays,
playwrights. Which means the words, the ideas, are precious. Must, above all,
be served. If the staging envisioned by the playwright is questionable, well,
that is really why he’s here and has his director, Kip Fagan, to help, to
steer. Fagan stages beautifully, moves his actors as if they were responding to
their own impulses, yet allows a falsely motivated crucial encounter necessary
for the trajectory of the play when it could easily be addressed, justified.
It’s a playwright thing. It’s something crops up in new works, again, just why
we’re here. Looking out for the playwright. Surely will be taken care of.
Joffrey, Tala Ashe & Francis Benhamou
fragile Emina (perfectly beautiful Talia Ashe) comes home at recess from
college with her nervous, dream boat boy friend Sam (perfectly handsome Babak
Tafti) who is completely ignored by her father, Raif, (splendid Ali Reza
Farahnakian) respected novelist and academic. Raif sees a devout Muslim youth
despite all Sam can do to show he’s not, at least not here, in this house.
Emina’s mother Naja (simply wonderful Heather Raffo) is lots easier. Wild
haired sister Alsa (Francis Benhamou), completely secular, teases the two of
them. When they announce they are engaged, all tensions mount. They have to
meet Sam’s family. And Sam is not “out” as secular to his family. The meeting
ritual is kept almost cordial. Peter, Sam’s father (excellent Ramsey
Faragalleh) bubbles over with bonhomie and his mother, Carmen (wonderfully
good Lanna Joffrey) almost smiles. But when Naja and Raif wish to know who that
girl is hiding upstairs, the fat is in the fire. She’s Sam’s wife (Francis
Benhamou, again, in another role, hair covered). His ex-wife, he exclaims. With
nowhere else to go.
performance levels, all the adults, the parents, are splendid, seasoned pros,
reach all of the audience right to the back rows. They know their basic
techniques and apply them to the whole of their performances. But the
beautiful, young actors haven’t the same strengths, the same ability to project
their performances, their crucial performances, and are not even aware that
they are insufficient. They are doing their very best, certainly good for a
close up on camera. But not for the theater. And with the best of intentions,
not knowing how to do otherwise, they do disservice, indeed, damage, to the
play, the playwright, the producers, the entire production, the audience.
Without even knowing it.
has to know, has to help. Or it all falls down. There’s a play there struggling
to come out.
At Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street. Tickets: $44.
212-279-4200. 1 hr, 45 min. Thru Apr 30.