Friday, March 8, 2019

"The Who and the What" ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

It's the modern American dilemma. Dad is a Pakistani immigrant and his emotions are still wrapped up in the old country. His two daughters are Hyphenated-Americans with an emphasis on "Americans." They are still tied to their family, but not to the immutable religious customs of Dad's conservative homeland.

We love this show. Author Ayad Akhtar makes us feel for three of the four characters. Alfredo Huereca's Afzal shows fatherly devotion mixed with religion that rejects modern discussion; his eldest daughter Zarina (Denmo Ibrahim) is far too Harvard-educated to go for the typical assumptions people read into the Koran; and younger daughter Mahwish (Annelyse Ahmad) has her own problems with her offstage, un-seen Pakistani boyfriend. She cannot marry until her older sister does and therefore she must remain a quote-unquote virgin, while also satisfying boyfriend. Afzal wishes to please everyone but cannot thunder his way out of the upcoming storm.

We have trouble with Zarina's love interest, Eli (Patrick Alarpone), because he shows no physical attraction to Zarina, nor she with him. As a white convert to Islam, he is naturally suspicious to his new Atlanta Muslim community while at the same time he is subconsciously a hero to them, due to his white skin. He speaks angrily of the community's disdain of black Muslims, but only in one side comment. We could use more of this. Eli's character feels undeveloped and emotionally barren.

Don't read Zarina's book, Afzal. It won't help. Oops. Too late.


The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "The Who and the What" Three Stars with a Bangle of Praise. Acting, Staging and Hana S. Sharif's Direction earn one Star each. The Bangle is for the way Akhtar puts religious issues onto the table without talking down to anyone. The show is refreshing and educational at the same time. We get to think while being locked into a well-crafted plot.

'The Who and the What"
Marin Theater Company
397 Miller Avenue, Mill Valley
Through March 24
(Small theater. Cheap seats fine.)

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