“Noura” at Marin Theatre Company

“Noura” at Marin Theater Company

Carol Benet

A puzzling, thought-provoking play “Noura” by Heather Raffo runs now at the Marin Theatre Company where it is a co-production with Golden Thread Productions.  The fine troupe Golden Thread presents plays about the Middle East in its own small theatre on Portrero Hill.  “Noura” fits into this category.

“Noura” (Demmo  Ibrahim) is a woman, wife, mother, architect, who fled war-torn Iraq with her husband Toreq, (Maticco David ).  They just received their American passports after waiting  over 7 years. It is Christmas Eve and she is preparing a sumptuous Christmas dinner with specialties from her native land.  They are waiting for Maryam (Maya NazzaiII) to come.  Noura has been supporting her university studies in California and they hope she will stay for a few weeks.  Their young son Yazen (Valentino Herrera) and friend Rafa’a also join in the preparations.

Noura is a conflicted, citizen of the U.S.who just received her passport.  She misses her country and big family who would have celebrated with her.  She searches for her identity in this land where they have adopted American names (Tim for husband, Alex for the son and Nora for her).  The playwright Raffa borrows an idea from Ibsen’s  Nora in “A Doll’s House” who like-wise searches for her own independence and identity.   

Tareq was a surgeon in Iraq, but first  had to work at a Subway Sandwich for years until he landed a job at a hospital as an orderly.  Their  friend Rafa’a (Abraham Makany), Toreq’s colleague from Med. school,  is able to practice medicine in America. But it is Noura who cannot be realistic.  She was an architect (a bow to Iraqi Starchitect Zaha Hadid)  and now she sketches hypothetical architectural plans for a huge compound to fit Rafa’a’s five sisters and families totaling 47 with separate, but connecting living spaces around a courtyard, a familiar design in the old country.  But the five sisters are scattered all over the globe. Noura’s plans are just part of her nostalgic and wishful thinking of the time when families were united and able to follow their traditions, especially Christmas dinner.

When Maryam arrives, she carries such a big secret that for the rest of the play that makes Noura and Tareq’s investigate their own beliefs and prejudices.  The story of their past comes out and the feelings from it are raw and sobering.

This is an immigrant play on many levels. It is also a feminist play as well as a humanitarian one.  It lets you live in the complicated lives of these five characters, all performed by an excellent cast and supported by a skilled director Kate Bergstrom, set by Adam Rigg, costumes by Anna Oliver, lighting by Kate Boyd, sound by Nihan Yesil and an excellent program book by the dramaturg Nakissa Etrmad with an article about the playwright, another about the play and a time-line of 20th century Mosul from where the characters came. 

The play could not be more timely with Iraq in the headlines as our president tried to end the joint operations after his decision to assassinate Iran’s top general.   It is relevant that Noura was a translator for the Americans before she fled from Iraq, a subject of much controversy because translators were not often given the support that they were promised. Neither of these subjects came up in the play but they are in the air.

“Noura” runs at the Marin Theatre Company in Mill Valley, California, until February 2, 2020.  marintheatre.org or 415 388 3208. 

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →