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The Vagrant Trilogy

Theatre Review by Wendy Caster - May 17, 2022

Rudy Roushdi, Hadi Tabbal, and Tala Ashe
Photo by Joan Marcus
It's 1967. Scholar Adham has come to London with his wife Abir from their small village in Palestine to present a talk on Wordsworth. At the English university where he is to speak, he seesaws between jubilation and imposter syndrome as he navigates that foreign and very particular culture. While he is there, war breaks out in the Middle East, and the English university offers him a fellowship so that he and his wife can stay safely in London. Abir wants to go home to be with family and thinks that Adham should want to go back too. After all, his mother, who has sacrificed everything for him, is all alone. But Adham points out that teaching at an English university is exactly the sort of future his mother saw for him. Shouldn't he take the opportunity to honor her sacrifices?

And so, two roads diverge in a yellow road. But in Mona Mansour's excellent play, The Vagrant Trilogy, now on stage at The Public Theater, Ahmed can travel both. Act 2 gives us Ahmed's life if he stays in England. Act 3 gives us Ahmed's life if he goes home.

Through Mansour's vivid and beautiful writing, The Vagrant Trilogy works as one unit, even though different futures are shown. The main throughline is, how can people make choices when they have so little choice? The plight of Palestinians circumscribes not only their lives and opportunities, but also their very beings. Mansour makes this visceral through Ahmed's two lives, as we feel his frustrations, disappointments and anger. There is no future that can allow Ahmed to be whole and happy.

The Vagrant Trilogy is a completely political play; it accomplishes this by being a particular story of one person and the people around him. It is a heartbreaking show, but it is also funny and warm. On top of that, it offers the exhilaration of truly brilliant theatre. I hope very much that it has a long, successful life.

Mansour and The Vagrant Trilogy were well-served by the terrific cast and excellent production values at the Public Theater. Led by Hadi Tabbal as Adham and Tala Ashe as Abir, the cast also included Nadine Malouf (particularly wonderful in her various roles), Osh Ashruf, Rudy Roushdi, and Ramsey Faragallah. The simple scenic design of Allen Moyer worked perfectly in tandem with the superb video design of Greg Emetaz to bring the world into the small theatre. The costume design by Dina El-Aziz, lighting design by Reza Behjat, and sound design by Tye Hunt Fitzgerald and Sinan Refik Zafar also contributed to the excellence of the production. All these factors were brought together smoothly and vividly by the compassionate, intelligent direction of Mark Wing-Davey.

It is frustrating to review a show after it's gone, because I can't tell you to run and see it. But perhaps it will reappear again, perhaps on Broadway. It deserves to.

Editorial note: The original version of this review incorrectly stated the play's beginning was set in 1982.

The Vagrant Trilogy
Closed May 15, 2022
Joseph Papp Public Theater/ LuEsther Hall, 425 Lafayette Street, New York NY