Regional Reviews: San Diego
So, it makes sense that The Old Globe wanted to host the West Coast premiere of Noura. I just wish the production had turned out better.
A Chaldean family is getting ready to celebrate Christmas. In their tradition, Christmas Eve is a fast day, and Noura (Lameece Issaq), also known by the American version of her name, Nora, has been cooking for the Christmas feast. It's a bit chaotic: the dining table that takes up much of the space in their New York apartment's main room is crowded with the remains of a number of projects, including the U.S. passports the family recently received. Noura's husband Tareq (Mattico David), or Tim, and their son Yazen (Giovanni Cozic), or Alex, have been out shopping (and, truth be told, sneaking food). Their friend Rafa'a (Fajer Kaisi) will also drop by. But the arrival that Noura has been anxiously awaiting is that of a young woman named Maryam (Isra Elsalihie). Maryam grew up in an orphanage in Mosul, the city from which Noura and her family immigrated. Noura and Tareq have been providing some financial support for Maryam, and she has ended up studying at Stanford. Maryam has come to New York for the holidays.
As it happens, Maryam shows up at the apartment while Noura is preparing. She's not at all certain that she wants to join the family for Christmas, and she lets Noura see that she is pregnant. Noura is ashamed for Maryam and finds it hard to believe that Maryam wanted a child, got herself pregnant, and then told the father that she didn't want to marry him. Noura is clearly upset and Maryam leaves without assuring Noura that she will be back.
Bit by bit, the family's stories are revealed. Despite having become U.S. citizens, only Alex seems to be comfortable with himself as an American. His parents still have one foot in Iraq, despite many years of struggling to get where they are in the the United States. Their friend Rafa'a has been able to establish himself as a gynecologist, but his success is tempered by his darker complexion and his Muslim heritage.
This feeling of "one foot in one place, one foot in the other place" is, I imagine, common among immigrants. Nevertheless, there may be something special about those who have escaped the violence in Iraq. Even after Christmas Day has come, Noura still feels lots of tugs. Her last line is "I don't know how to let go and hold on at the same ..." followed by silence.
Normally, I would not give away the end of the play (there's a lot I left out, and you will profit by taking in the whole story), but I do so because it seemed to end abruptly, and without reading the script I wasn't sure why. Reluctantly, have I concluded that the production itself kept me confused.
The Old Globe didn't do this play any favors by staging it in the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, which is an in-the-round space. Oftentimes, this configuration works well with intimate plays, but Noura confounds it. For instance, Andromache Chalfant's scenic design makes the stage area the main room of a New York apartment. In the process, it wastes a good deal of space and crams some of the action into constricted areas. The cramming often results in a character lacking mobility to give the audience members enough "face time" to make them feel included (and, frankly, to hear, as it appears that Melanie Chen Cole's sound design does not include individual mics for the actors). And the script calls for a Christmas tree on stage. Any Christmas tree in the White Theatre would block audience views, so Ms. Chalfant hung it from the rafters, upside down. Perhaps the upside-down tree is intended to be a distress signal, like an upside-down American flag. Nevertheless, it distracts more than it helps, at least it did from my seat, directly across from it.
The acting, too, is uneven, under Johanna McKeon's direction. At times, line readings sparkle, at other times, opportunities are missed. The arc of the story also develops in fits and starts, making the play's climax even more of a surprise than I think was intended. The cast seems weighed down unnecessarily, which makes the 100-minute, no intermission, run time feel longer.
Noura received a good deal of positive attention on the East Coast. I am sorry that this production, well-intentioned as it is, fails to make a similar impression.
Noura runs through October 20, 2019, at The Old Globe Theatre, Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way (in San Diego's Balboa Park), San Diego CA. Performance times are 7 p.m. on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are available at the box office, by calling 619- 23-GLOBE (234-5623), and online at www.theoldglobe.org.
Additional creative team members include Dina El-Aziz (Costume Design), Driscoll Otto (Lighting Design), David Huber (Voice and Dialect Coach), and Noora Hammi (Cultural Consultant).