Review by Tulis McCall
April 11, 2017
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 he 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 out 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 baring our necks to see inside. Not fair to us or those characters.
"Approachably eloquent, frequently comic new drama... It simply does one of the things theater does best: It gets us in a room, breathing the same air, thinking about how to be human together."
Laura Collins-Hughes for New York Times
"Imagine 'Meet the Parents' but with two Muslim immigrant families and you’ll get something of a bead on author Zayd Dohrn’s timely and topical but frustratingly incomplete and unevenly acted play."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"It should be a kind gesture to tell you that Zayd Dohrn's family drama now at Playwrights Horizons has good intentions. It should soften the blow of telling you that the play itself is unengaging, that it suffers from lurches of illogic and a haphazard approach to character. But why start out with a wan “hooray” for Dohrn's motives? To praise his choice to write about the variety of experience among immigrant Muslim families? The Profane doesn't work, and it feels disingenuous to pat a play on the head right before giving it a resounding whack."
Helen Shaw for Time Out New York
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