NOURA, by Heather Raffo, is an emotionally complex play exploring what happens when you leave your country but not your culture or sense of identity. How do you find the balance between who you are now and what you have left behind?
Noura (Lameece Issaq), the title character is a wife and mother who has recently become an American citizen along with her husband Tareq (Mattico David), and their son Yazin (Giovanni Cozic). It is Christmas and this Chaldean Christian family is getting ready to celebrate, with the presents being wrapped and the holiday food being prepared.
Family friend, Rafa’a (Fajer Kaisi) grew up with Noura and though Muslim, is happy to celebrate with the family with the traditional cuisine they left behind in Iraq.
Noura’s Iraqi roots are deep, and she yearns for a return to the family celebrations and conversations of her youth. Even though the family left in order to survive, they have sponsored an orphan girl named Maryam (Isra Elsalihie) throughout her childhood in an Iraq convent to feel like they’re still connected in some small way. Maryam is now in the United States as a university student and Noura has invited her to celebrate the holiday with the family.
Protective of her culture and her family, Noura, an unemployed architect draws and dreams of an ark for a family to live in safely and without interference of the outside world. Her husband Tareq is an ex-surgeon who would love to expand their family now that they are more settled in the states. Noura gets increasingly tense as the holiday and Maryam get closer to arriving, much to the confusion and consternation of her husband Tareq and their friend Rafa’a.
Loosely based on A DOLL’S HOUSE by Ibsen, whose famous wife and mother Nora walked through the door and away from her family and into the wide world. This Noura has her family, but she struggles with the guilt of leaving her country and a feeling that she could have done more. She feels trapped between the two worlds; one of her future in the US, and one is her past in a country that no longer bears any resemblance to where she grew up.
The script offers many layers and has some beautiful moments for the actors to play. It explores many themes; from motherhood, PTSD, cultural values, politics, to what one would do for love. Noura’s memories literally whisper to her throughout the play, showing how past decisions made in a war torn Iraq can still haunt the future.
Director Johanna McKeon keeps everything moving along with some moments of quiet contemplation. Even so, exploring all of this in a one act can seem like a tall order. As the play goes on the conversations rapidly switch from joking to argumentative and back again, at times leaving the audience feeling some emotional whiplash. Everything starts to feel too circular before it finally gets to the point.
Issaq as Noura is intelligent, intense, and intriguing, but eventually becomes so harsh and brittle that she feels like a bomb ready to explode.
David as Tareq is warm and loving, though hiding a more conservative streak about values than may have originally been expected. Kaisi as Rafa’a is friendly and engaging, and Cozic is charming as the young son Yazin. Elsalihie is strong as the independent student who is more modern minded than either Noura or Tareq could have anticipated.
Scenic design by Andromache Chalfant reflects the a feeling of not being fully rooted in their new surroundings; all clean lines, and not even a couch that Tareq mentions he would welcome. The Christmas tree hangs upside down over a pile of gifts promising surprises for the holiday, but some surprises may be more welcome than others.