Review - Food and Fadwa
Fadwa Faranesh, a bright, engaging Palestinian woman living in Bethlehem, hosts a cooking program from her home kitchen, where she prepares delectable dishes like tabouli and baba ghanoush in the traditional manner the women of her culture have been preparing them for centuries. To her, food is an important connection between the past and the present.
However, the television cameraman she chats with isn't really there. Neither is the camera or the loyal viewers tuning in every day. No, the central character of Lameece Issaq and Jacob Kader's Food and Fadwa is not delusional. She just needs an occasional escape from the realities of her West Bank life, which includes being delayed at numerous checkpoints wherever she goes, enduring sudden announcements of curfews where no one is allowed to leave their home and caring for her dementia-stricken elderly father.
As warmly and humorously portrayed by Issaq, Fadwa is a single woman who, with her mother deceased, has pushed her own needs aside become the sturdy support system for her extended family. Aside from her father, Baba, played with sincere pathos by Laith Nakli, there's her sister Dalal (Maha Chehlaoui) excitedly preparing for her wedding to Emir (Arian Moayed).
Fadwa's long distance boyfriend is Emir's brother Youssif (Haaz Sleiman), who has been living in New York. He arrives for the wedding with her American cousin, Hayat (Heather Raffo), a successful restaurant owner and cookbook author. Hayat is quite oblivious to the conditions this side of the family lives under (Her complains that she was held at customs for a whopping 15 minutes is met with little sympathy.) and, among other things, Fadwa is particularly irked at Hayat's practice of creating non-traditional variations of classic recipes.
The wedding ceremony is threatened when a suddenly announced curfew, where everyone is confined to their homes for an indefinite amount of time, has Emir unable to return from a trip to Jerusalem and, after many days, leaves the family running out of food, water and Baba's medicine.
While the issues of Food and Fadwa might suggest a heavily political piece with angry speeches denouncing the Israeli government, Issaq, Kader and director Shana Gold take a lighter approach that might remind older viewers of the Norman Lear sitcoms of the 1970s like All In The Family and Good Times. Like those landmark programs, Food and Fadwa indirectly approaches controversial topics by using dark humor to show how the family is accustomed to dealing with oppressive restrictions. A comical highlight has Emir and Youssif smearing dollops of leftovers on the dinner table to create a map explaining the various restricted areas of the city, liberally shaking salt all over to represent the numerous checkpoints. Fadwa's cooking show begins addressing subjects like food rationing and fasting. There's even a nutty neighbor; Fadwa's chain-smoking Aunt Samia (Kathryn Kates), whose lives for watching television episodes of Arab Idol. ("That girl from Kuwait was voted off last week. So sad.")
With Andromache Chalfant's large and highly detailed unit set looking not so different from a suburban American home, Food and Fadwa successfully emphasizes the similarities between the on-stage characters and the New York Theatre Workshop audience members; boiling down deeply complicated conflicts to how they affect perfectly nice people just trying to live their lives and preserve their culture. It's a sweet and tasty evening.