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BWW Review: Heather Raffo's NOURA Takes An Ibsen-Like Approach To Iraqi Assimilation Into America


The lack of visible doors in the audience's view of the home of the title character of Heather Raffo's drama of an immigrant Christian Iraqi family in America, Noura, appears more and more to be a symbolic gesture once it becomes apparent that her story takes its cue from Henrik Ibsen's A DOLL'S HOUSE.

Nabil Elouahabi and Heather Raffo
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

The unusual living room set-up provided by designer Andrew Lieberman has a curved upstage wall made of bricks spaced far enough apart so that those behind it are seen walking the lengthy pathway to detours leading to other rooms and, presumably, to an exit.

Noura, portrayed by the playwright, was an architect in the northern Iraq city of Mosul and her husband Tareq (Nabil Elouahabi) was a surgeon before they fled to New York to escape the bloodshed. While working to acquire the proper credentials to practice in their new home, Noura tutored while Tareq made sandwiches at a Subway franchise.

But after eight years, they and their adolescent son Yazen (Liam Campora) have acquired citizenship and Tareq has a new job in the medical field which will substantially raise their standard of living. And, as it's Christmas Eve, it seems like the right time to celebrate their new American passports. But Noura's mood is deflated because her husband has, without consulting her, Americanized their passport names to Tim, Alex and Nora.

Tareq sees it as a minor adjustment in the cause of assimilation, but the change strikes deeper for Noura, who has been struggling with self-identity issues in a new homeland where she sees individuality stressed over community and family. Her husband teases her for procrastinating so long to buy a couch for the living room, but her focus has been on creating an elaborate design for a communal apartment building where she dreams of them living with family members who are now scattered across the world.

Dahlia Azama, Nabil Elouahabi, Heather Raffo,
Liam Campora and Matthew David
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

Noura's friend since childhood, Rafa'a (Matthew David), now a happily assimilated doctor, has arrived for holiday dinner, traditionally served after a day of fasting, but the guest Noura is most anxious to greet is Maryam (Dahlia Azama), the college-age woman who grew up in a Mosul orphanage under Noura's sponsorship.

Having fled to America after ISIS destroyed the building and killed most of its inhabitants, Noura anticipates Maryam's arrival to bring her some kind of connection to the better parts of the life she once knew, but the young woman's non-traditional plan for her future disappoints Noura and outrage Tareq.

Issues are discussed, secrets are revealed and Noura must seriously evaluate what she wants from her life and her marriage.

The company does fine work under Joanna Settle's direction, but the ninety-minute play seems to simmer a bit too long before rushing into the anticipated climax that comes after a rather calculated revelation. But what works about NOURA is Raffo's exploration of the question of balancing the traditional American lifestyle with the traditions of a homeland one is forced to flee.

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