Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity
Signature Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Also see Susan's reviews of Queen of Basel and Vanity Fair

Holly Twyford
Photo by C. Stanley Photography
Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, receiving its world premiere in the ARK Theatre at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, is a thought-provoking play centered around issues of personal and human identity and the question: what artifacts of the past must be saved for the sake of civilization?

Playwright Heather McDonald provides bits of context for the action—in the parlance of art conservator Layla (Holly Twyford), random brush strokes—but leaves the viewer to create the full picture. James Kronzer's scenic design depicts the ruins of a museum of art and antiquities after a century-long war has devastated the world, with broken sculptures lying on the floor and piles of rubble throughout. (Kronzer brings the audience into the setting with pitting and scarring in the walks behind the seating areas, and there's a reason why the ushers hold umbrellas.)

At first, Layla speaks professionally about the need to retain the great works that reveal "the very heritage of our humanity." Is human survival sufficient, she asks, without the emblematic works of beauty and reverence created by visionaries throughout the ages, even (or especially) if the works have been damaged and repaired?

Director Nadia Tass understands how things can change in an instant, and time seems to break as the museum turns into a prison—but also a refuge from the climate-based and other "natural" disasters ravaging the landscape. A stern soldier, Mitra (Felicia Curry), feels contempt for Layla's education and privileged place in society, but she needs Layla's help. With the assistance of Nadia (Yesenia Iglesias), a hijab-wearing nurse, Layla must restore a priceless painting by Rembrandt that has somehow survived the war.

Early on, Layla asks the audience what they would save if their homes were on fire. That's also the way all three women, from their vastly different perspectives, hold onto their previous lives. They recall their loving parents and lost children, the walks they took through city and country before the two catastrophic floods, the month of daily lightning storms, and the mourning doves falling from the sky.

Twyford creates another indelible character, a woman who experiences despair but, through her love of beauty and light, manages to keep going. Curry shows how Mitra's ferocity comes from a need to prove herself, while Iglesias brings out the hidden strength behind Nadia's gentleness.

The entire 80-minute production is often a sensory assault with the random flashes in Sherrice Mojgani's lighting design, Zachary G. Borovay's disorienting projections, and James Bigbee Garver's sound design and original music. Audiences who stay with it will see the beauty that perseveres among the brutality.

Signature Theatre
Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity
February 26 - April 7, 2019
By Heather McDonald
Layla: Holly Twyford
Mitra: Felicia Curry
Nadia: Yesenia Iglesias
Directed by Nadia Tass
ARK Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave.
Arlington, VA 22206
Ticket Information: 703-820-9771 or 1-800-955-5566 or