Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Projection designer C. Andrew Bauer is pivotal as Veils begins when African-American Intisar is flying from Philadelphia to Egypt to connect, perhaps, with her past. She wears an Islamic veil (hijab). Bauer, sound designer, and composer Matt Sherwin and lighting designer Michael Chybowski combine here and elsewhere to provide pro-active tone and atmosphere. "Inti" arrives (and her hair is quite covered) to be greeted by hip, extroverted Samar, who wears a New York Yankees cap. Arnulfo Maldonado costumes and creates scenic design. The women's different wardrobing is dramatically symbolic. The visuals shown behind the actors are, for the most part, enriching. Upon occasion, one might tend to look at an image rather than at a performer.
Samar, a multi-dimensional and driven journalist, is formulating a blog which draws focus upon veils and much more. Intisar, whose Muslim identity is of great import to her, elects to wear a veil. Her new roommate, Samar, sees herself as liberated and does not wish to be constricted by concealing her hair. She strives for full emancipation. Thus, the obvious tension point between these two articulate, impassioned women.
Coash spent four years teaching playwriting at The American University in Cairo. BSC includes an important program note explaining that this work is not intended to replicate historical accuracy. Still, the author has experienced and knows the territory. He writes with authenticity and clear purpose.
Samar persuades Inti to assist with the video blog, and these two surely are not enemies. They push and pull, come together and then forge separate identities. They share a dorm room as the streets, nearby, are poised to explode with danger. Hosni Mubarak, president of Egypt, could be ousted. Veils is about conscience, conviction, and also confidence to actualize one's beliefs. Julianne Boyd, BSC Artistic Director, mentioned in pre-curtain remarks that busloads of students will soon see the show. With educational value in mind, the performance should galvanize lively discussion.
Directing this presentation and making knowing choices, as the dialogue swings and seesaws back and forth between the protagonists, is Leah C. Gardiner. The production feels unhurried yet its pacing is fueled by actors' energy. The two women, who reprise roles they developed at Maine's Portland Stage about a year and a half ago, are not only talented but fully in charge. Their chemistry is fresh and inviting.
At the very outset, Intisar stares toward watchful theatergoers. The mirror is not real but her self-introspection and engagement is. She later has a lengthy, nearly transfixing monologue shortly after mission. She alludes to 9/11/2001 and says, "My mother ... was forced to strip to her underwear in the back room of an airport. I was thirteen ..." and so forthmoving material.
During a final scene, Samar elects to join others in rebellion. Intisar seeks to literally find her voice: she tries it out, then chants with increasing expression and intensity. After all, her sister (metaphorically) is out there.
Veils establishes its dramatic question almost immediately and becomes an exploration. No one moment is arrestingly breathtaking. As a totality, the play is impactful, sometimes even funny, and its theme is evident. Coash opens questions and allows those observing to posit answers. This play encourages further contemplation long after the theater grows dark.
Veils is presented at Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield, Massachusetts through October 18th, 2015. For tickets, call (413) 236-8888 or visit barringtonstageco.org.