Village Voice 04.19.2017 : Page 49

49 April 19 April 25, 2017 Parts Unknown Mixing western iconography with Greek tragedy, Samara explores inal frontiers VILLAGE A BY MIRIAM FELTONDANSKY merica has always been obsessed with frontiers: the farthest outpost, the least-known terrain. But, Richard Maxwell observes in his new play, Samara , the truly mysterious territory, for everyone, is death, the real point of no return. Produced by Soho Rep and playing at the A.R.T./New York Theatres in Sarah Benson’s smart production, Samara is a western in the key of Greek tragedy — a humane meditation on various ventures into parts unknown. Maxwell’s plot is characteristically spare, withholding exposition in favor of elliptical dialogue and evocative detail. A young messenger (Jasper Newell) treks across vast territories, attempting to collect on a debt, and encounters violence along the way. He meets a man guarding a re-mote outpost (Roy Faudree) and stabs him in a brief, brutal altercation. When he reaches his destination — a lonely bar, tended by a mysterious igure called Manan (Becca Blackwell) and patronized by a Drunk (Paul Lazar) — he tries to col-lect, but instead meets his own violent end. Even in a world this bleak, though, the missing are searched for, and the dead are mourned. Fleeing the messenger’s bloodied remains, Manan meets the boy’s family: his mother, Agnes (a master-ful Vinie Burrows), and his brothers (Modesto Flake Jiménez and Matthew Korahais), all anxiously seeking their missing youngest. When the Drunk arrives bearing the messenger’s corpse, a scene of ritualized grief ensues. Benson choreographs these harsh en-counters with precision, and the cast im-bues them with an emotional speci icity that prevents the scenes from collapsing under their existential weight. After all, the play flirts both with allegory (who are the messengers in our own lives, arriving to collect on what debts?) and with Greek tragedy, in its inexorable movement to-Osman (Babak Tafti), college sweet-hearts, have just arrived at Emina’s family apartment, a study in Upper West Side clichés. Tasteful artifacts testify to international travel; floor-to-ceiling bookshelves accord the place of honor to an enormous dictionary. The couple’s here to announce their engagement, a revelation not wel-comed by Emina’s novelist father, Raif (Ali Reza Farahnakian), or her dancer mother, Naja (Heather Raffo). Sam’s family, you see, is religious. They live in a traditional community in Westchester and represent every-thing Raif tried to leave behind when he immigrated to New York years ago. (The play avoids specifying either family’s country of origin: They’re both simply American and Muslim.) Following an awkward night at the Almedins’ — leavened slightly by the antics of Emina’s sourly rebellious sister, Aisa (Francis Benhamou) — we decamp to White Plains for a parallel meet-and-greet. Set designer Takeshi A.R.T./New York Theatres 502 West 53rd Street 212 352 3101 Through May 7 Samara Vinie Burrows and Becca Blackwell (foreground) lend emotional speciicity to Samara . Julieta Cervantes ward violence. One of the messenger’s brothers leads the other by a rope: shades of Waiting for Godot ’s Pozzo and Lucky? Then, too, the messenger’s death by gunshot — half accident, half murder — might evoke real questions of gun violence in our own time. But though hinting at these deeper con-nections, the production luckily stays in the realm of abstract imagination. A score by music legend Steve Earle — who also serves as narrator, declaiming stage direc-tions from behind a music stand — adds rumbling percussion and wailing uilleann pipes to the soundscape. (The curtain-call dance break is delightful, and the only moment of real levity in the piece.) Louisa Thompson’s set consists of black plastic shipping pallets, arranged across the floor and in piles onstage and stacked to form audience seating. The pallets conjure a bleak alien landscape — and, perhaps, hint at the transience of all our lives. Toward the end, Maxwell and Benson confront the idea of life’s ephemerality, ex-amining the play’s landscapes without its characters. We hear a monologue describ-ing an overhead view of passing country-side, from the perspective of a bird flying above. A series of light cues flashes across the empty stage, as if we were watching the production over again in sequence, but with its characters and scenes already long gone. The world looks empty without its people — but oddly beautiful, too. Nothing Sacred Zayd Dohrn’s The Profane confronts — a little too neatly — religious and secular orthodoxy S BY MIRIAM FELTONDANSKY ecular people like to think we’re smarter: We assume we’re more tolerant than the ortho-dox — any orthodox, of any reli-gion. In Zayd Dohrn’s The Profane , now at Playwrights Horizons in a production directed by Kip Fagan, complacencies like these are challenged, as two Muslim-American families face off in an intimate confrontation. Dohrn’s indictment of secular prejudice is the most interesting element of what proves to be, otherwise, a carefully staged but overly familiar tale. Emina Almedin (Tala Ashe) and Sam Muslim-American world. But The Pro-Kata communicates equally clearly about fane , despite crisp staging and a strong this cultural milieu: The Osmans’ home is ensemble cast, doesn’t offer complex all carpet and gleaming surfaces, and the insights. Its plot is too cookie-cutter, its book on prominent display here is an or-revelations too predictable: families nately embossed Koran. But Sam’s rela-and worldviews conveniently opposed, tives are different in deeper ways. When or a son who loses faith and a daughter alone, they show each other kindness and who starts believing. Dohrn acknowl-respect, qualities missing from Emina’s edges his story’s familiarity (“God, I feel sarcastic, sniping family dynamic. Sam’s like fucking Tevye here!” complains parents try hard — in the case of his father Raif ) but doesn’t (Ramsey Faragallah), un-move beyond it. comfortably hard — to wel-The Profane Other recent dramas come their secular guests. Playwrights Horizons of immigrant cul-Even so, unsurprisingly, 416 West 42nd Street tures in America — dinner goes poorly, espe-212 5641235 like Danai Gurira’s cially when a revelation Through May 7 Familiar , staged at about Sam’s past con irms Playwrights Hori-Raif ’s worst suspicions zons last year — im-about the religious. Raif ’s bued their tales with striking cultural anger is visited on, among other things, speci icity. Here, knowing little about that fancy Koran, and vestiges of goodwill the protagonists’ deeper histories or crumble on all sides. inner lives, we’re left in the shallow Unraveling orthodoxies, religious or waters of young love and parental secular, is a welcome project, and there’s prudishness. Maybe Dohrn could have no question that the American public been just a little bit more profane. needs nuanced engagement with the

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