Chicago Theatre Review
A Tree Without Roots
Abdul Samee, or Sam, as he prefers to be called so as to be more accepted, is a product of several different cultures. Ali, his father, is an Iraqi immigrant; Sara, his extremely outspoken mother, came from Puerto Rico and was raised in the Catholic faith. However Sara converted to her husband’s religion, Islam. As the play opens in the family’s Chicago dining room, Sam’s mom and dad are explaining that, due their son’s recent divorce, he’s become an embarrassment. They explain that he needs to remarry right away to avoid gossip. Ali and Sara, with the assistance of their Muslim spiritual leader, Imam Kareem, have found Sam a perfect match.
Yasmina, an Iraqi artist and social activist, shares a small apartment with her widowed father, Musa. Both are refugees from war-ravaged Iraq, now living modestly in the Windy City. Highly-educated Musa was once a successful dentist back in Baghdad but, because he’s disrespected in this country, Musa’s reduced to earning his living as a cabdriver. Yasmina works as a supermarket cashier, where she experiences prejudice on a daily basis. The young woman has learned to release her pent-up anger, pain and humiliated frustration through her expressionistic paintings. Yasmina thinks of herself as “not normal” and, therefore, unsuitable for marriage. Sam is adamant that he’s definitely not in the market for another wife, so their parents’ matchmaking attempts may become a disaster.
Rohina Malik’s latest play is a comic love story about two young, obstinate individuals and their disparate Muslim families. This tale, which is quite funny, while also being deeply moving, is about everyday people. They just happen to be Muslim, much in the way that Brian Friel’s plays are universal in plot and theme, but the characters are coincidentally Irish. Malik’s play originally premiered at Berwyn’s 16th Street Theatre. That production has been transferred intact to the Goodman, directed once again by Ann Filmer. As she did with her one-woman show, “Unveiled,” this playwright explores the discrimination experienced by Muslim women, especially after 9/11. She’s made this bittersweet cake more appealing by frosting it in the kind of humor audiences enjoy in television sitcoms.
Susaan Jamshidi stars as Yasmina, a young survivor who’s built a wall around herself. She’s buried her rage and hurt deep inside, only allowing her indomitable stamina to shine through. This talented actress expresses every nuance of this character, especially her dignity and resolve, with just a bit of unexpected dry humor. When Sam, played by the excellent actor, Michael Perez, is first introduced to Yasmina he’s put off by her tough demeanor. However, he finds the girl’s artwork intriguing and quite captivating. Sam offers to help her in securing a not-for-profit status for one of Yasmina’s organizations. During their frequent meetings she finds something in Sam that makes her fall in love with him. Perez is strong and equally determined, but he eventually sees in Yasmina his equal and a modern young woman with whom he feels is worth spending his life. It’s on this stage that the story truly begins to unfold.
Laura Crotte is wonderful as Sara, Sam’s candid, straightforward mother. She’s very proud of her multicultural heritage and is a devoted Muslim woman, always wearing a hijab, like Yasmina. As Ali, Sam’s more reticent father, Amro Salama is very good. He’s matched by Ron Barkhordar, as Yasmina’s father, Musa. Like Ms. Crotte, both actors provide a generous amount of comedy to the play. Allen Gilmore is properly dignified and learned as Imam Kareem, their Muslim leader in Chicago. He’s particularly wonderful as he officiates the religious ceremony in Act II. As Yasmina’s childhood friend, now a hardworking Iraqi doctor, Martin Hanna is a kindhearted, but frank Amir. Playing smaller, cameo roles are Salar Ardebili, as the Man, and Frank Sawa, as the Officer.
Directed with gentle care and a naturalistic energy by Ann Filmer, and staged upon Joe Schermoly’s lovely set that defines both family’s homes, this is a warm, lighthearted play with a powerful, dramatic theme. Costumed by Rachel M. Sypniewski in a lovely, colorfully authentic wardrobe, especially for Sara, the audience feels as if we’re watching real life. Rohina Malik shows us, in this tender comedy, that people are people, sometimes trees without roots, no matter who they are or from where they come. The universality of these five characters and their lives reminds audiences that we’re all cut from the same cloth.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented October 20-November 19 by the Goodman Theatre in the Owen, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago.
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling 312-443-4800 or by going to www.GoodmanTheatre.org/Necklace.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.