Erin Shea Brady is a contributing writer and critic at PerformInk and Newcity Stage. Directing credits include: Everybody (Brown Paper Box Co.) and Cabaret, Annapurna (staged reading) and The Rise and Fall of Little Voice (No Stakes Theater Project). Erin has assistant directed and dramaturged productions at the Goodman, Jackalope, TimeLine, A Red Orchid, Northlight, and Remy Bumppo. Erin is a graduate of the directing program at Columbia College Chicago, the internship program at Steppenwolf, Jackalope's inaugural Playwright's Lab, and participated in the Goodman's Criticism in a Changing America bootcamp. Erin is a company member with Brown Paper Box Co. and is currently pursuing her MSW at Loyola.
Michael Perez (Sam), Laura Crotte (Sara), Amro Salama (Ali), Allen Gilmore (Imam Kareem), Rom Barkhordar (Musa) and Susaan Jamshidi (Yasmina) in Yasmina’s Necklace by Rohina Malik, directed by Ann Filmer.
By Erin Shea Brady
For every “now more than ever” play, every revival that we resurrect to draw a parallel between systems of oppression, every narrative that shows women, the LGBT+ community, and people of color victimized and stripped of their agency, we need a YASMINA’S NECKLACE.
Yasmina (the supremely talented Susaan Jamshidi) is an Iraqi refugee and a modern-day superhero. From Iraq to Syria to Chicago, she is an advocate for her culture and a fighter for inclusivity; a troublemaker, as her father (played with great heart by Rom Barkhordar) would say. Jamshidi’s Yasmina is, in many ways, triumphant, striving unapologetically to make a difference through art and activism in her new American life — but in Rohina Malik’s careful and passionate telling, Yasmina’s journey is not romanticized. It’s not wiped clean of its pain and complexity for the sake of a Western ideal, nor is it given an unearned resolution in order to make it more palatable. Malik uses beautiful words to articulate Yasmina’s suffering, but there is nothing pretty about her pain.
Under Ann Filmer’s considerable direction, this two-hour play is equal parts painful and funny. Sara (Laura Crotte, who doesn’t miss a beat) and Ali (Amro Salama) are looking for a match for their son, Sam (Michael Perez) — a recent divorcé who has chosen a new American name in the hopes of overcoming prejudices at work. As Sam and his parents clash over arranged marriage, love-marriage, and divorce rates, the play dives into an exploration of past and present. When Yasmina comes into the picture, the exploration becomes a deep dive into the importance of culture, heritage and art. It’s worth noting that Malik has written an “art” play that is refreshingly unpretentious and deeply human.
The comedy of a meddling family may be cliche, but in the hands of these actors, the jokes land. It would be easy to trivialize the experience of discrimination in corporate America, as compared to the horrors of actual war, but Malik avoids the trap with characters who are grounded and compassionate.
In an otherwise thoughtful piece, there were a handful of moments that felt remiss and out of place. Though Sam dismisses many Islamic directives as old-fashioned, he doesn’t question the masculine assumption of power in his relationship with Yasmina. In her most vulnerable moments, Sam talks about understanding without truly affording her the space to process, the space to be broken. In both subtle and straightforward ways, Sam’s dominance consistently goes unchallenged. I welcome seeing a flawed man onstage. There are many kind, compassionate, well-meaning men who unconsciously assume power over women. But, in this case, I wasn’t sure if it was intentional. I was also surprised by a few questionable allusions to mental health and medication that felt thinly researched.
On the whole, YASMINA’S NECKLACE is full of complexity, contradiction and a rich cast of characters who are a joy to spend the evening with. Malik’s poetic and unapologetic dialogue brings this play right to the heart. Highly recommended.