Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Alter Theater

Also see Jeanie's review of Game On

Denmo Ibrahim
Something very interesting is happening out on the west end of Fourth Street, where Alter Theater has put up its latest work, Baba, a one-woman shown written and performed by Denmo Ibrahim. Try to ignore the funkiness of the setting. Because once you've made it through the city parking lot and into the exceedingly dull building behind the liquor store, the outside world falls away and you are in Ibrahim's world.

Perhaps it's fitting that Baba is staged in such a bland setting, because the action takes place in—in order—a government office building, an airport departure lounge, an airplane, and an airport arrivals area. But within these rather flavorless places, Ibrahim sets a story that is tragic (in two very different ways), but ultimately hopeful.

In part one, we meet Moe, short for Mohammed and played by Ibrahim in a fat suit, wig and (extremely) false mustache. Moe is an optimistic, gregarious, somewhat unctuous Egyptian immigrant, caught in the hell of a bureaucratic U.S. government office, where he has come to pick up a passport for his daughter Layla whom he has brought with him. Between the runaround Moe is getting from the functionaries and the need to keep a five-year old entertained in a world of linoleum and fluorescent lighting, it's a wonder he manages to curtail his temper. Or perhaps obsequious flattering is how Moe expresses his temper when he knows his natural reaction won't be at all helpful in getting him what he wants.

Moe is indefatigably optimistic and hopeful and persistent. He's done all that has been asked of him (something he states is a rather boring trait of Egyptian men—"always following the rules"), and he will jump through whatever hoop is placed in front of him, as long as he can get that passport. Little does he know his dogged determination to get his daughter officially registered as a citizen will lead to the greatest tragedy of his life.

Part two introduces us to Layla. It's 25 or so years later, and she is waiting to board a flight to Cairo to see her father. (In a brief entr'acte, Ibrahim sheds the Moe costume, freeing her own mass of dark, curly hair from the confines of the wig, and revealing her own athletic frame from under the fat suit.) But the apple hasn't fallen too far from the tree, as Ibrahim has written many parallels between the two characters, situations where they react in the exact same fashion.

Unfortunately, she has written too many of these, and by the seventh go-round, it starts to feel overwritten, as though Ibrahim doesn't trust the audience to understand how much father and daughter are alike. This sense of the writing pulling focus from the characters (or the story) happens again. When Moe/Layla are trying to get a word in edgewise with a bureaucrat (or anyone with petty power), Ibrahim does a trippingly-off-the-tongue "could I just ... if I could ... if just could ju ... that is both charming and impressive. But she lets it go on a beat too long and it deflates the moment.

Don't let these minor quirks deter you from seeing Baba. After all, it's just a skilled writer and performer giving in to temptation and showing off a bit. Don't let the technical simplicity of the production throw you off, either. There is simply too much good stuff going on here to ignore.

Ibrahim's piercing eyes and grace of movement are put to excellent use, as is her focus and sense of timing. But it's the stories she tells that comprise the most compelling aspect of Baba. Without saying too much, Moe's story will rip your heart out—but Layla's will give you hope that it might return to its home and beat once again.

Baba runs through April 27, 2014, at the West End Studio Theater, 1554 Fourth Street, San Rafael. Shows are Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $25 general. Tickets and additional information are available at

Photo: David Allen

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Patrick Thomas