For Email Marketing you can trust

The Profane

la Ashe & Babak Tafti       photos by Joan Marcus




                                         By Eugene Paul


Hard 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 Farahnakian 

& Lanna Joffrey



That’s 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 right?


Oh, 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.


Lanna Joffrey, Tala Ashe & Francis Benhamou


Lovely, 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.


In 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.


Someone has to know, has to help. Or it all falls down. There’s a play there struggling to come out.


The Profane. At Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street. Tickets: $44. 212-279-4200.  1 hr, 45 min. Thru Apr 30.