Review: PILGRIMS MUSA & SHERI IN THE NEW WORLD at Mosaic Theater Company

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An emphasis on immigrants and how well they integrate (or not) in this country is nothing new. If anything, the issue has become more heated in the past few years.

What makes "Pilgrims Musa & Sheri in the New World" special is the way it enmeshes the theme of cultural diversity within the framework of an-fashioned rom-com. What's more, the play by Egyptian-born American Yussef El Guindi, demonstrates that whether two lovers are very much alike or different, there are likely to be stresses and strains along the way.

The playwright's dialogue is particularly gifted, even though the end of the play might seem a little rushed.

As the playwright also expresses so poetically, being in love is a kind of insanity no matter who falls into it and with who.

As a playwright, El Guindi, frequently examines the collision of ethnicities, cultures, and politics facing Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans, has peopled his work with two main characters who are likeable, if confused and not only honest with themselves and others.

"Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World," which won the Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association's New Play Award in 2012, defines "pilgrims" in many different ways, including the protagonists' not only falling for someone different but possibly falling for the first time at all.

Rachel Felstein is loony but also lovely as Sheri. She takes what could become a stereotype -- of a woman who jumps into bed with men, then demands commitment -- and turns her into a believable, sexy, and charming woman you root for.

Ahmad Kamal is Musa, the non-religious Muslim cab driver who appears to be interested in sex with the willing Sheri but comes to see her in a much-deeper way. His mistake -- which complicates the plot -- is hiding his fiancée and girlfriend from each other.

Sanam Hashemi as Gamila, Musa's poised and slightly uptight Muslim-American fiancée who proves herself to be a little more flexible than she and he expect, probably has the toughest part as she undergoes that transformation in a last-ditch to win him back.

Freddie Lee Bennett is Abdallah, Musa's late friend, and Gerrad Alex Taylor is his friend who offers wise words about how love makes people slightly nuts in the head.

"Pilgrims " is part of the Voices of a Changing Middle East Festival, which began at Theater J and continues with Mosaic's founding ristic director Ari Roth.

Mosaic Arts Theatre will present a host of post-show discussions that explore resonant themes in the play. These are free.

Shirley Serotsky, who is a veteran of other Voices Festivals productions and newly appointed as Associate Artistic Director at the Hangar Theatre in New York, directed "Pilgrims" with a deft touch hat ties together all the various elements of the play: the humor, pathos, insight, and foibles of romantic love.

The clever set by Nephelie Andyonadis suggests an anonymous big city but also levels of pilgrimage. Michelle Elwyn filled the stage with several pieces of luggage, as part of the set and as props.

"Pilgrims Musa & Sheri in the New World" is one hour and 50 minutes long, with a 15-minute intermission.

The play runs through February 16 at Atlas Performing Arts Center, at 1333 H Street, NE, Washington, DC. The box office phone is 202-399-7993.

Photo by Christopher Banks of Ahmad Kamal and Rachel Felstein.


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