Regional Reviews: Boston
Also see Josh's review of Road Show
Unveiled tells the stories of five Muslim women from a variety of backgrounds: a Pakistani immigrant to the United States who designs and creates Bollywood-inspired fashion; a Moroccan American born and raised in Chicago; an African-American convert to Islam; a South Asian rapper; and a Palestinian immigrant. Malik portrays all five characters, switching outfits in between monologues given next to a table set for tea, with enormous Persian rugs covering the floor and draped upstage as backdrop. The intimate setting of New Rep's black box space is well suited for Malik's performance, which emphasizes personal storytelling over all else. Seated so close to Malik on stage, the audience is literally steps away from joining her for tea as she tells the true-life inspired stories of the five characters she's crafted.
Unveiled made its world premiere at Chicago's 16th Street Theater in 2009, quickly selling out its entire run, and Malik has performed the show around the country since, in theaters as well as places of worship, universities and at interfaith events. Malik is of South Asian heritage and was born and raised in London; now based in Chicago, she is a member of the Dramatists Guild of America, a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists, and Artistic Associate at the 16th Street Theater and Voyage Theater Company.
Malik's writing is strong, and although her performance addresses heavy themes such as racism and hate crimes, some of the best moments come from her ability to weave humor and personality through each narrative. By way of dialogue with invisible scene partners, as Malik sometimes bounces back and forth from giving voice to her primary character and those around her (a daughter speaking with her parents, a woman arguing with a man on the street), Malik gives her audience insight into daily events of a Muslim-American woman's life. Energetic debates with parents over when their daughter will find an acceptable husband provide laugh-out-loud moments balanced by more frightening encounters with strangers in which Malik's character is told to remove her hijab because "this is America."
In her performance of the five different characters, I expected sharper contrasts, particularly in the accents (one would think, for example, that a woman born and raised in Chicago would speak noticeably differently than an immigrant); perhaps it is intentional as another way to demonstrate the characters' similarities to each other, and to their performer, but each is conveyed through what seems to be a version of Malik. Still, her attention to detail, from her description of new fabric for a wedding dress ("dirty rose with a touch of gold") to her sprinkling of references to the Quran, gives the show life and helps draw the audience into the private lives of these women. And that is the goal; Malik, as one of her characters, pleads with someone in her story, "Get to know me." It is the thematic refrain of the performance as a whole. Sitting with someone in their home and hearing their stories over a cup of tea is certainly not the worst way to start, and in Malik's view, it may be the best.
Unveiled, through January 28, 2018, in the black box theater at the Mosesian Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal Street, Watertown MA. The show continues February 7-16, 2018, at Greater Boston Stage Company, 395 Main Street, Stoneham. Tickets for New Rep performances may be purchased from the New Rep box office at 617-923-8487 or by visiting newrep.org. Tickets for Greater Boston Stage Company performances may be purchased by calling their box office at 781-279-2200 or visiting greaterbostonstage.org.