The Who and The What is What It’s All About

The Who & The What

By Ayad Akhtar

Directed by Hana S. Sharif


“What is to give light must endure burning.” ~ Viktor Frankl


“We can live without religion and meditation, but we cannot survive without human affection.” ~ Dalai Lama


This play is a brilliant glimpse into the tension and love and conflict within families over religion.  The play centers around one religion, Islam.  The story is a struggle shared by families with dogmatic members of any religion, equally zealous in their love of family.  While at the same time remodeling the social norms to invite us to learn, relate, laugh and cry as we connect with and appreciate the shared humanity of this Muslim family.

The play follows a Pakistani- American writer struggling to finish her novel about women and Islam.  Her devoted, successful father wants to help her find someone new and move on from a previous relationship.  She does both, but when her father and sister read her finished manuscript, her controversial literary analysis of the Qur’an and who Muhammad really was drives a wedge between them, impelling painful decisions confronting the beliefs that guide their every choice.

The impressive, real working kitchen set-stage is the ideal place to draw the audience into the lives of sisters Zarina (Denmo Ibrahim), and  Mahwish (Annelyse Ahmad), Imam Eli (Patrick Alperone) and their father, Afzal (Alfredo Huereca) for the thrilling 100 minutes.  In the opening scene,  the audience learns of sisterhood and Zarina’s cryptic reveal of the subject matter of her book, “gender politics”, while watching the making of a salad.  The space becomes a park with just a bench, and the combination of excellent direction and sublime acting have the audience feeling electricity in the air during the scene changes.

Afzal, their father wants to help Zarina move beyond an old love and be happy, so he does the unthinkable and masquerades as her online profile in an attempt to help her find appropriate Muslim men.  (It is as riotous as it sounds.) He does; equally touched and appalled, she ventures meeting one man to appease her father and put an end to his interfering.   Her father knows her well and Eli eventually becomes part of the family.

Conflict ensues after her well-intentioned, impulsive and impatient father (and sister) reads the manuscript having snatched it when he spies it in Eli’s bag.

The play is as educational as it is entertaining.  References to the Qur’an and stories about Muhammad that have shaped the Muslim creed;  The same stories that have shaped the lives and faith of Muslim women.

Acting by all four players is solid and leaves you laughing and crying, reflecting on the roll of faith in family, women in faith, and pulled in different directions as you feel for each characters perspective.  There is no protagonist – only family.

The conflict is real and could easily take place in a Jewish or Christian household.  But it is a treat to see inside an everyday Muslim-American household, where Hollywood and even main stream theatre have, until now, fear to tread.

Run, don’t walk, to Marin Theatre Company, to witness this masterfully produced play from now until March 24th.  If Marin audiences are lucky, hopefully they will extend it!


Evening: Tuesday – Sunday 7:30pm

Matinees: March 14th 1pm, Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm.

Marin Theatre Company- 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley

Tickets: $25-$70 415-388-5208