The New York Theatre Workshop’s stage has been transformed into a Palestinian home complete with working kitchen where Fadwa Faranesh (a remarkable Lameece Issaq) holds court preparing for the upcoming nuptials of her younger sister Dalal (Maha Chehlaoui) to the charming and always hungry groom-to-be Emir Azzam (Arian Moayed) whom I last saw in Marco Millions (based on lies). I was impressed with his skills then and they have only gotten better.
Ms. Issaq has co-written this new, delicate and universal two act drama, FOOD and FADWA – spiced up with lots of comedic overtones with Jacob Kader. It is a co-production of NOOR THEATRE whose intent is to develop and present the work of theatre artists of Middle Eastern descent. It’s quite an impressive beginning.
As you enter the theatre, the neat and organized Fadwa (Ms. Issaq) is cooking and the odors of mixed spices, olive oil and eggplant permeate the air. It smells delicious. The writing, as it turns out, is also very savory.
What makes FOOD and FADWA special is that it convincingly introduces us to another culture and customs mingled with circumstances that are readily familiar to us. Only here, they have to prepare for a wedding dealing with border patrols, inspections, curfews and bullets.
Arriving from America is Emir’s brother Youssif (Haaz Sleiman) and Fadwa’s cousin Hayat Johnson (Heather Raffo). Both have become Americanized. Youssif runs a restaurant in New York and Hayat has become rather famous as a chef by tinkering with family recipes – winning the James Beard Award and having an article in O – Oprah’s magazine.
Fadwa is a purist with her family recipes and resents the fact that Hayat has taken these recipes and made them her own and has also taken away Youssif from her – stealing his affection if not his heart.
The comic Aunt Samia (Kathryn Kates) smokes a lot while speaking on her cell phone, concerned mostly with “Arab Idol” and who has been eliminated but contributes song and dance in a wonderful bachelor party sequence.
Her brother Baba (Laith Nakli) is suffering from dementia and is cared for by his daughter Fadwa. His love of the olive tree and all that it represents is very touching as we see him with all his faculties intact in flashback.
Fadwa’s way of coping with the stress of her family is cooking and fantasizing that she is the host of her very own cooking show – covering a wedding, fasting, rationing, moving on and death – as she speaks to us, her audience, inviting us into her kitchen and into her heart.
One of the highlights of the play has Emir explaining the different areas in Palestine with the use of hummus, rice, a torn up napkin and a piece of chicken as he makes a mess of the dinner table.
FOOD and FADWA is a slow cooked, gastronomic and heartwarming journey that will leave you completely content. It is directed with panache by Shana Gold who has managed to mix all the ingredients together to come up with an extremely satisfying production.
www.nytw.org Through June 24th PHOTO: Joan Marcus
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