The Who and The What a “kitchen sink drama” at MTC

(L-R)Denmo Ibrahim (Zarina), Annelyse Ahmad (Mahwish), Alfredo Huereca (Afzal) ad Patrick Alperone (Eli) in “The Who and The What” playing at the Marin Theatre Company.

The Who & The What: Drama by Ayad Akhtar. Directed by Hana S. Sharif. Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley, CA. 415-388-5208 or February 28-March 24, 2019.

“Kitchen sink drama” is alive and well at Marin Theatre. Rating: ★★★★★

In the late 50s and 60s the term “kitchen sink drama” came into vogue in England and playwrights began to explore controversial and political issues. Arnold Wesker was a product of that era and even wrote a play entitled “The Kitchen.”  His plays often dealt with self-discovery and love. Ayad Akhtar who won the Pulitzer Prize for drama with his play Disgraced brings that structure and concept into modern focus with The Who & The What that is receiving a stunning performance by the Marin Theatre Company (MTC).

Akhtar has created a Pakistani-American family living in a comfortable home in Atlanta where a widowed patriarch Afzal (Alfredo Huereca) has a successful taxi cab business. His two daughters are the elder Harvard graduate Zarina (Denmo Ibrahim) and the younger free spirited Mahwish (Annelyse Ahmad). Afzal a devout Muslim who believes in the traditional concept of arranged marriages yet has accepted the modern media of the internet to troll for suitable husbands for his daughters. Mahwish feels that Afzal will not approve of a spouse for her until Zarina gets married.

Zarina , who has broken up a with potential husband is not now interested in marriage. She is writing a book “The Who and The What” that researches the women’s role in the Islamic religion questioning the interpretation of the Quran. There is specific reference to how women should pray and a volatile the denial that the holy book insists that women should wear a veil – the hajib. Zarina has writers block.

Akhtar now introduces Eli (Patrick Alperone) a white American convert to Islam. Eli, who has come to repair the kitchen plumbing and is by Afzal’s standards the ideal mate for Zarina. There is a marvelous yet disquieting scene when Afzal instructs Eli on the proper way to treat a wife.  The lesson is rejected by Eli who finally meets Zarina and helps her break her writer’s block. It is the start of their relationship.

When Afzal reads the unpublished manuscript his wrath has no bounds and questions the effect it will have on the family, friends and congregation and an unspoken reference to the reaction to Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses.”

Eli and Zarina are banished and the book is published. The final scene takes place three years later and Akhtar has written a bittersweet reunion scene without committing a yes or no to conclusions in Zarina’s book. The social implications of growing up as a Muslim in our American world is the thread that gives this play a solid footing.

The total production is stunning with Alfredo Huereca’s brilliant tour de force alone making this a must see play. Denmo Ibrahim exudes strength with trepidation in her conflict with the patriarch. It is a pleasure to see the growth of Patrick Alperone as an actor who cut his teeth at the SF Playhouse in 2009. Annelyse Ahmad as Mahwish adds contrast to the strong actors surrounding her.

Hana S. Sharif’s direction holds tight rein on her actors keeping them in balance even when they are in conflict on the stage. The kitchen set by Tim Mackabee is perfect in every way and stars as an integral arena of conflict. Running time is 100 minutes without intermission and is a must see play.

CAST: Denmo Ibrahim, ZARINA; Annelyse Ahmad, MAHWISH; Patrick Alperone, ELI; Alfredo Huereca, AFZAL

CREATIVE TEAM: Director, Hana S. Sharif; Scenic Designer, Tim Mackabee; Costume Designer, Anna Oliver; Lighting Designer, Wen-Ling Liao; Sound Designer, Everett Elton Bradman

Kedar K. Adour, MD

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