Power Strip is a right-now story freighted with all the tales of virgins and pillage the world has ever seen.
The plot has a raw quality, as it focuses on a young woman living by her wits, in a refugee camp. Yasmin (Dina Shihabi) has carved out a crude haven in a denuded olive grove, on the edge of a Greek camp for Syrian refugees — people ﬂeeing barbarism and resigned to whatever is next. Her previous cosseted life, with expectations of marriage and children and order, is in ruins.
Now she is a survivalist — parcelling out bread and water and hard-won wisdom. Her lifeline is literally a power strip she’s attached to a parade of extension cords, which allows her some modest heat and a charged phone. She sleeps rough but she is learning German on YouTube.
Playwright Sylvia Khoury’s written a “new play” (that’s the deal at the always-inviting Claire Tow Theater), but it has clearly been marinating for a long time. Something ancient and enraged drives her narrative. This is the rare script I long to read. I’m astonished by Khoury’s capacity for layering. The levels of meaning she folds into her title alone — stunning.
The patriarchal frame of the ancestral war informs the cruel and confounding rules of the camp. The artful skew in Power Strip is the heroine’s reframing of all that. The evolution of Yasmin from prosaic maiden to improbable warrior echoes with history and grit…and inevitability. It is a remarkable reframing of the notion that biology is destiny.
Khoury adds a periodic dash of dark humor to a grim landscape. Khaled (Darius Homayoun), a young man also struggling with loss, but from a distinctly male perspective, entertains Yasmin with tales from Greek mythology. We watch her register that these heroic legends are all built on the back of rape and jealousy and masculine malevolence. She’s gobsmacked by the injustice —while Khaled remains enamored of the tales.
There is a remarkable authenticity to Power Strip. While it is awash in epic ideas and informed by a revolutionary thread, the performance has the bleak feel of real people trapped in perpetual duress. It sends you out into the night pondering.
(Photo by Jeremy Daniel)
WHAT THE OTHER CRITICS SAID
"For all the timeliness of Tyne Rafaeli’s production, “Power Strip” isn’t the sort of theatrical experience — like “The Jungle,” say, or “Flight” — in which the audience feels, viscerally, the urgency of refugee life. A certain stiffness, in the performance and the script, keeps it at a regrettable remove. If “Power Strip” is more striking intellectually and politically than dramatically, though, it is striking nonetheless."
Laura Collins-Hughes for New York Times