Their study partnership involves reading "Ring of the Dove," an eleventh century Muslim treatise on love by Ibn Hazm. The bookwhich is quoted throughout the playgoes into detail on how to grow and manage love. As they share the book, their feelings grow deeper and fuller.
Initially, a conflict between the lovers is prompted by Ibrahim's reluctance to have sex outside of marriage. His Muslim beliefs bar him from carnal love. Paloma finds this endlessly frustrating. She is accustomed to sex and wants to experience this intimacy with Ibrahim. He keeps putting her off, but it's clear he can't put her off forever.
Over the course of reading Hazm's book, they discover that eleventh century Spain was a time and place where Muslims, Christians and Jews co-existed peacefully. This looks particularly attractive as the two lovers try to work out a relationship in the post 9/11 world of religious intolerance in New York. Ibrahim invites Paloma on a trip to Spain to visit directly the areas of ancient Muslim Spain when tolerance ruled. Then tragedy strikes turning the lovers' world upside down.
The story of Ibrahim and Paloma is interjected with scenes between Ibrahim and his long-time friend Jared Rabinowitz, a Jewish attorney who is trying to help Ibrahim through legal troubles that result from the tragedy is Spain. It's through these encounters that we learn about the intolerance that surrounded the two lovers. Interestingly, most of the intolerance comes from Ibrahim's family.
The first act of Paloma is very powerful. The drama builds evenly and strongly throughout the act. The evolving love between Ibrahim and Paloma is tender and true. Likewise, the underlying difficulties are also authentic. The second act delivers less power than act one. It's an extended resolve of the passions of the first act. There is one dramatic moment for Ibrahim that comes when he travels back to Spain with Jared that seems out of character for Ibrahim, especially given his devotion to Muslim principles. Otherwise, this is a powerful play that gets under the skin of religious tensions.
The staging by set and lighting director Richard Hogle is sparejust a few chairs and tables. Yet it works well. The centerpiece of the play is the dialog and the acting. Director Gil Lazier does an excellent job of gently bringing out the personalities of the characters. He allows the passion between the two lovers to develop slowly but persistently. Lena Armstrong is wonderful at portraying a very American Puerto Rican girl, and Abraham Jallad captures the torn soul of Ibrahim who struggles with the conflict between his love for Paloma and his commitment to Muslim principles. Ron Weisberg turns in a solid performance as Ibrahim's friend who is endlessly frustrated with Ibrahim's inability to face his legal problems with simple practicality.
The production at the Wells Fargo Auditorium is produced by Linda Lopez McAlister, the artistic director of Camino Real Productions. This is the premiere run of Paloma, by Anne Garcia-Romero. The play was a runner up in the National Latino Playwriting Award. Garcia-Romero has written a number of plays that have been produced by impressive companies such as the New York Shakespeare Festival. It's quite a coup that Camino Real was able to debut this play.
Paloma by Anne Garcia-Romero, directed by Gil Lazier and presented by Camino Real Productions, is playing at the Wells Fargo Auditorium in the National Hispanic Cultural Center (NHCC), 1701 Fourth St. SW, through August 5. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday at 2 pm. General admission is $17. Seniors, students, Albuquerque Theatre Guild, and NHCC members receive a $3 discount.. For reservations, call 505-724-4771, or go to the NHCC website: www.nhccnm.org