Review of Noura at Playwrights Horizons

  • Our critic's rating:
    December 11, 2018
    Review by:

    Women! Nothing’s easy, right?

    In Noura, at Playwrights Horizons, Heather Raffo is both the playwright and the lead — a dervish of multitasking. She tells a personal tale — a soulful narrative of Iraqi immigrants who, at least superficially, land well in the U.S. Her portrait of self-loathing, survivor guilt, and a longing to be both safe and honorable, underscores the PTSD driving the family’s chaos.

    It would be a cheap shot to say Noura, is just a contemporary version of A Doll's House, with an Iraqi-refugee wash. But, it gets us in the ballpark.

    There are many intriguing parallels, but Raffo’s Noura borrows judiciously and enriches profoundly. It has the immediacy of a news flash and the overlay of brutal, desperate flight. Yes, it is better to be alive and safe but that comes at a price.

    There is homage to spare in this play because it captures what women do. Raffo’s Noura must flee as urgently as Ibsen’s Nora fled. Noura’s made as painfully pragmatic a choice as did Sophie.

    Like all women, Noura, whatever the spelling, has learned not so much to dissemble as to disguise. She loves the men around her and cherishes her young son, yet she knows how profoundly she has settled and compromised herself. She struggles to do the right thing even as she understands that the right thing is both elusive and unsatisfying.

    Raffo loads us up with woman’s universal struggle. What is her job? Wherein lies her fulfillment? She nurtures and breedsm but who nurtures her? Hobson’s choices are foisted upon her, no choices at all really, save one.

    The staging is a miracle of metaphor. Noura is an architect by trade. She is also a woman trying to rebuild the intimate, crowded living that enriches the Iraqi culture she has lost. The set is sweeping and circular, there are no angles, and, as her husband Tareq (Nabil Elouahabi) who hankers after assimilation, bemoans: “…there is still no couch!”

    Part of the collaborative artistry here relies on Raffo’s and director Joanna Settle’s small devices. On any stage, an actor struggles to make an internal monologue evident. In this production, they overlay audio of what Noura is thinking when she has moments alone — we hear her thinking, yet the content of her thinking is not entirely discernible. It is a mélange of grocery list and intimate fear, like the scattershot thinking most of us might own.

    This is an evening — 90 minutes with no intermission — that leaves you strolling out onto 42nd Street doing a little head scratching. In a phrase, Noura is philosophically intriguing but needs more in the emotional-impact department to satisfy.

    (Photo by Joan Marcus)

    What the popular press says...

    "It’s good that the best parts of Noura aren’t, in fact, easy. But a central performance as deep as Ms. Raffo’s can eventually become inaccessible. A door that appeared immeasurably open has somehow slammed shut."
    Jesse Green for New York Times

    "Raffo has taken inspiration from Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, itself indebted to the 19th century's “well-made play” clichés. Raffo gets caught up in that machinery, and those heavy old gears grind even her very fine characterizations into dust."
    Helen Shaw for Time Out New York

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - Time Out