Saturday, 22 April 2017

THE PROFANE by Zayd Dohrn at Playwrights Horizons

      We've seen some elements of THE PROFANE before--the parents' shock and disapproval at the seemingly inappropriate marriage of a child; the child's rebellion against doctrinaire parents; the battle of Western secularism against devout religion, particularly Islam; the identity crisis of a cosmopolitan Westerner when faced with reminders of his middle-Eastern religious background. However, Zayd Dohrn brings a different, fascinating focus to these materials. His central character, Raif (Ali Reza Farahnakian), is a novelist living the good life in a book-lined Greenwich Village apartment. He has renounced his Islamic background and has embraced secular humanism. As his daughter tells him, his only community is fellow readers of The New Yorker. Raif is in a not-very-fulfilling relationship with his wife, Emina, a former ballet dancer (Heather Raffo). Their was an arranged marriage that has managed to survive, if not thrive. Their eldest daughter is a kind of free spirit, a lesbian bartender. Her eccentricities are OK with her parents. The conflict comes with younger daughter Emina (Tala Ashe), announces that she is going to marry Sam, the son of a devout Muslim family.
     Raif is a brilliantly drawn portrait of a type anyone unacademic as familiar with, the secular intellectual who is every bit as doctrinaire and intolerant as the most rigid fundamentalist. He ignores Sam (Babak Tafti), when he arrives at his home, then goes so far as to rip pages out of Sam's parents' Koran. He would be part of a very simplistic dramatic construction, except that Dorn has surrounded Raif with characters who are at moments of transition. Though she won't admit it, Emina is more drawn to Islam than to Sam. Sam loves Emina but has lost his faith. Their relationship faces problems they don't foresee. Sam doesn't fully understand that he is on the way to becoming a version of Raif. He has lost his faith and is an enormous admirer of Raif's novels of exile and rebellion. One of the most powerful moments in this play filled with voluble, hyper-articulate characters is a silent one, Emina's embrace with Sam's mother and the arranged wife that Sam spurned--a moment of solidarity of Muslim women without any men in sight. There's a sense of kinship there missing in Raif's secular family.      
     Sam's family is as prosperous as Emina's, but they're not educated, not intellectual and, worse, the only book in sight in their White Plains home, complete with swimming pool, is the Koran. They're Raif's worst nightmare--they're religious and materialistic. At the end, Raif's eldest daughter is reading him an excerpt from one of his own books, a reminder of Raif's solipsism.
      THE PROFANE is a stimulating play, effectively directed by Trip Cullman and performed by a consistently fine ensemble.

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