March 6, 2008
By Louis Weisberg
Arab-American playwright Yussef El Guindi sets sight in his latest play on the divisive effects of social oppression within a marginalized community. Although the subject matter is different from that of his earlier plays, “Ten Acrobats in an Amazing Leap of Faith” and “Back of the Throat,” “Our Enemies” demonstrates the same trenchant wit and reflective humanity that made those plays big hits for Silk Road Theatre Project.
Perhaps a better title for this play would be “The Enemies Within.” Noor (played with poise and vulnerability by Monica Lopez) is a promising young novelist who attracts the attention of a publisher who has special—make that carnal—interest in the Arab world. But there’s a catch. The editor (Susie Griffith) wants Noor to turn her very personal story of a woman’s sexual awakening into a wide-lens expose of the Muslim suppression of female desire.
Meanwhile, Noor’s boyfriend Gamal (frenetic, sympathetic Kareem Bandealy) has launched a campaign to shame two high-profile Arabs he says play into the malevolent hands of the American media. The first is Mohsen (slyly sexy Andrew Navarro), author of a bestselling book that Gamal and Noor liken to an Arab minstrel show. The second is Sheikh Alfani (Vincent P. Mahler), the media’s go-to man on Islamic issues and the spiritual leader of a prominent mosque.
Although the community under the microscope here is Arab-American, the dynamics are all-too-familiar to Jews, blacks, Latinos and other scapegoat groups, perhaps none more so than GLBT Americans. We too find ourselves frequently struggling with the dilemmas El Guindi presents: Who speaks for our community? In what ways are we being manipulated by our allies? Is it appropriate to air our community’s dirty laundry, knowing outsiders might use it against us? How far are we willing to compromise or exploit our GLBT identity in order to achieve mainstream success?
Despite the weightiness of the material, El Guindi’s fluid story-telling skills, his delicious sense of irony and his bristling dialogue—hurled about the stage with pinpoint accuracy by an excellent ensemble—make this riveting entertainment. Director Patrizia Lombardi Acerra wisely keeps the production simple and moving with well-oiled precision. As with El Guindi’s previous two plays, “Our Enemies” is so engaging that its full implications might not hit until long after the stage goes to dark.