BWW Review: NOURA at Marin Theatre Company
Written by Heather Raffo
Directed by Kate Bergstrom
Marin Theatre Company
The simmering, sublimated tensions of Middle Eastern refugee displacement come to full boil in Heather Raffo's revelatory and bittersweet familial tale of choices made and the repercussions they create. Culled from real-life discussions of Arab American women and buoyed by a bravura performance by Denmo Ibrahim in the title role, Noura examines the heady themes if identity, fidelity, culture and family. It's tough, heartbreaking yet illuminating and authentic.
Eight years after fleeing her home in Iraq, Noura is excited and almost giddy preparing for Christmas with husband Tareq (Mattico David), son Yazen (Valentino Herrera) and family friend Rafa'a (Abraham Makany). There's a tree, presents and tons of familiar Iraqi food. Life seems good for them on NYC; Tareq works in a hospital, Rafa'a is an Obgyn, Noura an architect and son Yazen is playing a wise man in the Xmas pageant and loves his Play Station.
Noura also loves stealing a smoke, marveling in the snowfall which represents new opportunities. She's been sponsoring Maryam (Maya Nazzal), an Iraqi orphan for years and eagerly anticipates a visit. Her husband wants a baby girl, perhaps another doctor to take care of them in their old age. The tension begins almost immediately- Noura is taken aback by the families new US passports with altered American names (Tim, Nora and Alex) and Tareq is annoyed about inviting a stranger into their home, who he sees as a desperate attempt by Noura at reliving their horrific past.
Rafa'a and Noura share a secret past, lovers who were separated by religious differences but remaining close friends. He's brought her a surprise gift, a hard drive with every book from Noura's family library, a link to her past that will lift her spirits. Enter Maryam, independent, strong-willed, very pregnant and single. Her arrival is the spark that lights the fragile kindling of long held resentments and regrets lying below the thin veneer of all-American success.
Noura is put off and confused by Maryam's seeming defiance and denial of old-fashioned Iraqi ideals. Tareq is horrified at the single future mom and it brings out all his machoism towards his own wife who he equates as a slut like Maryam for sleeping with him before marriage. Maryam represents the new modern woman while Noura is torn between past and present - a dilemma exhibited by most refugees.
How each of the characters adjust to their new existences and the ramifications of the choices the adults made is the meat and potatoes of Raffo's play. Can you really leave the past behind and start anew? Noura and Rafa'a share a quote from a book by Krishnamurti, "Truth is a pathless land." The illumination of truths presented here alter each character's path and it's not all fairytale and snowflakes.
Denmo Ibrahim is amazing as the conflicted Noura. Her face displays her inner turmoil, frustrations and hopes. Stunned by her husband's display of old-world patriarchy and shocked by Maryam's modernity, Denmo's Noura attempts to bridge the gap between cultural norms that perhaps no longer exist and a present that is strange and frightening. There's a surprise plot twist that I won't reveal that pushes the story over the dramatic cliff with no hope of return. I had a few issues with moments of dead pause, a lost thread regarding the men's gift to Noura that goes nowhere and the abrupt, unsatisfying finale, but perhaps I wanted a neatly wrapped up resolution that cannot be. There may be no happy, perfect solutions to the refugee issues so prevalent in our times and that may be Raffo's point.
Noura continues through February 9, 2020 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley. Tickets available at www.marintheatre.org or by calling (415) 388-5208.
Photos by Kevin Berne.