Category Archive for: ‘Victor Cordell’

Veils

Amani Dorn and Naseem Etemad. Photo by James Kopp.

Amani Dorn and Naseem Etemad. Photo by James Kopp.

 

A piece of cloth has two sides

The plight of modern social and political discourse is that societies have become polarized by the predominance of ideological thought. The elasticity of middle ground has given way to the ossification of extremes. And so it is with individual’s opinions about the Islamic practice of women’s veiling. Playwright Tom Coash explores this issue with a brilliant two-handed play full of warmth, humor, passion, and conflict. And two talented young actresses deliver bravura performances to bring the play to life.

Naseem Etemad and Amani Dorn. Photo by James Kopp.

Naseem Etemad and Amani Dorn. Photo by James Kopp.

Intisar is a black, college-age woman from suburban Philadelphia. Her parents were in the civil rights movement and became Black Muslims. Routinely, she wears a hijab, the headscarf that may be attractive and fashionable, but is a symbol of modesty to be worn by its adherents in the presence of men outside the family. Though her religion and veiling set her apart from the American standard, how different can she be when she likes the music of her generation and dons a Phillies tee shirt in her dorm room?

To learn Arabic and become a better Muslim, Intisar takes a gap year to study at the American Egyptian University in Cairo. Enter Samar, her assigned roommate who had requested to share with a visiting American. Both women are highly attractive, but in contrast to Intisar’s demure behavior, Samar is a real head turner – big hair, bright lipstick, prone to short skirts, and plenty of attitude. So, you get it. They were each the opposite of what was expected. But each is affable, and with little in common, they initially establish a warm relationship.

Though Samar objects to the hijabs that Intisar insists Muslim women must wear, Samar induces Intisar to let her video the latter instructing about wearing the veil in order to post it on her blog. As things progress, more distinctions about types of veiling are revealed, and the issue of how voluntary the practice can really be in some countries when religious pressure to conform can be violently enforced. Samar notes how her mother was free to wear whatever she wished.  But nowadays, with foreign Islamic influence being the camel’s nose in the tent, Egyptian women face increasing pressure to wear the niqab, a full covering with only an eye slit. She adds that Intisar would never face the same pressure in her homeland and that Intisar doesn’t appreciate that a one time symbol of freedom can become one of oppression.

Samar is offended that yet another naïve American would presume to tell Egyptians how to live their lives. But soon, Intisar suffers new forms of prejudice, and dangers of the uprising against Mubarak threaten both women. We realize that each in her own way is fighting for women’s rights, but their cultural differences mask their common goals.

Nasem Etemad and Amani Dorn. Photo by James Kopp.

Nasem Etemad and Amani Dorn. Photo by James Kopp.

Against the violent backdrop of the Arab Spring, the playwright creates arresting situations between the two women and with their external environment. The verbal clashes between the two act to explicate Islam, yielding understanding but without dictating conclusions. And the actresses are exemplary in revealing their characters – each better than the other. Amani Dorn beautifully captures Intisar’s resolve to do the right thing. She conveys an ethereal quality that draws admiration even when you disagree with her. Naseem Etemad is equally sensational. She grasps Samar’s complexities with earthiness and frivolity but an underlayer of measured apprehension.

Small theater companies almost always face constraints that call for resourcefulness, and playwrights often realize that in how they craft their plays. Director Vickie Rozell responds admirably with elementary staging amplified with some dramatic lighting effects and a rich sound score. Stage directions in the script dictate the use of projections, and five screens are used to introduce external shots and open up the look of the small stage. In all, “Veils” yields an entertaining and thought provoking experience.

“Veils” by Tom Coash, is produced by and plays at Pear Theatre, 1110 La Avenida St., Mountain View, through September 18, 2016.

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