By Tulis McCall
The Profane is paved with good intentions but ends up being too clever by half. This is a play about people being devoted to and diverging from core beliefs, and the expectations that they have for their children to follow in their footsteps. The core beliefs in this case are those of Islam. The too clever part is that neither the religion nor it’s Muslim followers are mentioned. There is nary an “Islam” or a “Muslim” in the text. Odd? I think so.
Emina (Tala Ashe) and her beau Sam (Babak Tafti) have come “home” for Thanksgiving. Mina’s father Raif (Ali Reza Farahnakian) freezes Sam out from the moment we enter. We have no idea why. Mother Naja (Heather Raffo) arrives on the scene and does everything she can to correct the situation, but it does not work. Even her belligerent sister Aisa (Francis Benhamou) can only blurt out “Of all the guys you could have picked?…You know this is Pa’s worst nightmare.”
And still we don’t know what is going on. Oh we have a few ideas, but nothing is spelled out or stated. We know that Emina and Sam do not drink. We know they are in love and abstaining from sex. We know that there is something serious on Sam’s mind. Between the first and second act her tells Emina, but we don’t see that scene and only see its aftermath at the end of the second act.
The first act is set in Greenwich Village where Raif, Naja and Aisa live. The second act, predictably, is at Sam’s parents home where his father – a gregarious Peter (Ramsey Faragallah) and his very serious but compassionate wife Carmen (Lanna Joffrey) live in a house in the burbs that Raif says looks like it was designed by Vito Corleone’s decorator. Everyone tries way too hard, and the kids don’t help out.
Because there is a big old secret, which, when you think about it is not such a big deal. It is in the discovery of the secret that this play heads our of the corral for parts unknown. These two families clash with such viciousness that it is like having ice-eater thrown in your face. Raif’s rage is at a steady 60 mph from the start, and this is never explained in a way that fills in the blanks. So when it erupts in an unbelievable manner we are left stymied. The actors, to a person, execute their parts with sensitivity and skill. But the story’s path ties them up in knots they cannot untie.
Such good intentions, and I hope that it is the precursor to other plays that go down this road. I also hope that the writers of these plays remember that, no matter the content, most audiences need a bit of spoon-feeding before we are asked to swallow the whole deal. As it is, The Profane force feeds us too much, for too long with no payoff. Just because this is a delicate subject matter does not mean the story line has to be treated with kid gloves to the point where we never get a chance to go into the perverbial basement of these people’s lives. This play keeps us out on the front porch caring out necks to see inside. Not fair to us or those characters.
The Profane Written by Zayd Dohrn; Directed by Kip Fagan
Cast Tala Ashe, Francis Benhamou, Ramsey Faragallah, Ali Reza Farahnakian, Lanna Joffrey, Heather Raffo and Babak Tafti
Design by Takeshi Kata, costume design by Jessica Pabst, lighting design by Matt Frey and sound design by Brandon Wolcott. Production Stage Manager is Shane Schnetzler.
The performance schedule for THE PROFANE is Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 PM, Saturdays at 2 & 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 & 7PM. Single tickets, $49-89, may be purchased online via www.phnyc.org by phone at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily) and in person at the Ticket Central Box Office, 416 West 42nd Street (between Ninth & Tenth Avenues).