Quote of the Day: In letting go of the burden of silence – you open a door. Or maybe you close a door. Either way it’s a place from which you never return. Noura in Noura by Heather Raffo, a play about keeping silent, then speaking your truth, and finding yourself, only to lose yourself again, and maybe everything that you’ve known to be true.
In the post play discussion of Noura, written by Heather Raffo, Kal Naga, who plays Rafa’a, refers to this play as a “kitchen sink drama.” I like that. It’s what connects us. So much of life happens around the kitchen table. Our culture and customs show up in food prep, special dishes during holidays and celebrations, and the conversations with the people who gather with us. It’s where we tell our stories, share our hopes and dreams, laugh, cry, criticize, and come together. This is first and foremost what Noura is all about, people, and their relationship with one another.
Actually, I believe Kal said this play was more than a kitchen sink drama. It takes place in a small New York apartment, but it echoes out into the world. We learn how Noura (Gamze Ceylan) and her husband Tareq (Fajer Kaisi) escaped war torn Iraq, how their whole lives were destroyed, and that everyone they knew was either dead or scattered. They can never go back. Rafa’a (Kal Naga) is the one neighbor from their former life who is still part of their lives in New York. He’s an OB/GYN. Noura and Tareq have one son, Yazen (Aarya Batchu in the performance that I saw). He is sometimes referred to by his more American name, Alex. He is the next generation. He is part of the new world, making new friends, living in a new community, playing video games and asking to go sledding.
For years, Noura has sponsored an orphan girl in Iraq. Maryam (Layan Elwazani) has made her way to the USA and is studying physics at a university in California. She shows up on Christmas Eve, with a gift for Yazen, and a few other surprises.
So much happens in this play that runs 90 minutes with no intermission to break the intensity. While some of the images they describe rip your heart out, there are also moments of levity and playfulness, and many laugh out loud moments. The characters are well drawn. They feel like a real family. They argue about what to give the kid for Christmas, who will be coming over, what to serve. They give us glimpses of their intimacy, and reveal their secrets. Director Taibi Magar brings this story of complex relationships, the refugee experience, and humanity to life. I sat riveted during the entire performance.
Whispers of inner thoughts and sounds fill the theater when Noura is stepping aside and trying to process her world. Sound design by Sinan Refik Zafar sets the mood and tension. The lighting design by Reza Behjat helps us focus, and costume design Dina El-Aziz add to characterization. I loved the scene where Noura dresses her son Yazen in his costume for the Christmas pageant at church. She gives him a little history lesson along with the tucks and tugs at the costume.
Noura is a play that you will think about long after you see it. We were fortunate to stay for the post play discussion with many audience members. Some people shared their own stories and connections with this play. One woman stood up and explained what she saw in the set design (by Matt Saunders). The main action is in the apartment, but on the outside are concrete walls. The woman in the audience said that’s what happened to their neighborhoods. Once, they were open, and you could see people and interact. Then, the walls came up. Everything changed. It reflects Noura, who was an architect in Iraq. She talks about a plan where the family would all live together, like in a compound, and have an inner courtyard, where they’re all protected from the outside. And, yet, they are thrust into the world. It made me wonder: Do we truly want to be more isolated, or more open? How can we feel safe and protected and not completely cut ourselves off from the world?
You can see Noura at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN through February 16, 2020. Stay for the post play discussion, if it’s offered, or have your own with friends and family.
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: What connects us? What separates us? What happens when we speak our truth? What does your family serve at holidays and special occasions?
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Sounds like it covers a whole lot of sensitive and timely topics. I know that a lot of cultures do have families living together and with a courtyard just so they can all gather in one happy place.
The kid’s American name rocks.
So true, Alex!