October 28, 2005
By Jack Helbig
We live in scary times. Say the word "Muslim" and chances are the first word many people think is "terrorist." Which is why we need more plays like Yussef El Guindi’s sweet family drama, "10 Acrobats in an Amazing Leap of Faith," receiving its world premiere at the relatively new Silk Road Theatre Project.
El Guindi's Muslims are not terrorists. They aren't even scary. They are just average Americans. Immigrants, in fact, who are chasing the American Dream like millions of others before them—Muslim, Christian and Jewish alike.
And like millions of others before them, the family is experiencing a bad case of culture shock, brought on by the Americanized younger generation. Suddenly the oldest son no longer wants to go to worship at the local mosque because he is not sure he believes in God. (And he doesn't want to be a hypocrite.)
At the same time, the oldest daughter is going through a personal crisis all her own. Suddenly she can't decide if she wants to wear a headscarf, doesn't know if she wants to act like a traditional Muslim woman, and does and doesn’t want to go through an arranged marriage.
And then there is the other brother, who is dealing with the fact that he is gay, an idea that sends his father's blood pressure rising to dizzying heights.
Just your typical American family, facing a version of the same problems we all encounter. What makes El Guindi’s play remarkable, however, is how artfully he presents this slice of Muslim-American life. His play is unsentimental and almost completely melodrama-free. Parts of his tale even feel like direct transcriptions from life, they are so realistic.
El Guindi clearly knows of what he writes. He's lived the immigrant life since his family moved out of Egypt when he was a small boy. (He grew up in England and later the U.S.) And you can tell in this sensitive, hilarious show how much he understands the myriad dilemmas immigrant families face.
Even families that have made it—like the prosperous sons and daughters of a carpet salesman in this play—must face slings and arrows of a culture quick to stereotype. At one point in the story, a quiet moment between a man and a woman, is interrupted by a
paranoid bomb squad terrified that the man’s briefcase might be an explosive.
In directing this new work, Stuart Carden errs on the side of a safe, somewhat slow-paced production—a decision that makes the story and characters easier to understand, but which undermines El Guindi’s quiet sense of humor.
That's a shame because Carden has gathered a very fine ensemble here, one capable of releasing all of the comedy—and wisdom—in the text. Vincent P. Mahler is quite likable as the kindly father, trying his best to keep up with his headstrong offspring. And Irit Levit is terrific as his wise, opinionated wife.
But the real show stealer of the evening is the warm, energetic, adept comic actor Monica Lopez. In this show, this charismatic actress can do no wrong. Every time she enters a scene the voltage jumps up tenfold.
If everyone in the show had her pluck—and verve—"10 Acrobats" would run forever—and the old stereotypes of humorless, murderous Muslims would finally be given the death it deserves.
3 1/2 out of 4 stars