Review: “Noura” in Mill Valley

It’s Christmas Eve and a family readies their home for guests. Gifts are placed under a tree. Food is prepared. Mass will be attended. Millions of Americans will do the same. 

This is the first Christmas this family will spend as American citizens. Eight years after fleeing Iraq, Noura (Denmo Ibrahim), Tareq (Mattico David) and their son Yazen (Valentino Herrera) have gained naturalized citizenship as evidenced by the arrival of their new passports. The Americanized names on the passports (Nora, Tim, and Alex) are a sticking point for Noura, though. She feels as if her past, and more so her identity are being erased.

It’s the first of many conflicts explored in Heather Raffo’s Noura, a co-production of the Marin Theatre Company and San Francisco’s Golden Thread Productions. It runs in Mill Valley through February 9.

One of the guests expected at Noura and Tareq’s home is Maryam (Maya Nazzal), a fellow refugee and college student they have been sponsoring but have never met.  Her condition upon arrival sets up another conflict though, curiously, her future employment in weapons development does not and barely registers with the folks who fled the bombardment of their homes.

Rafa’a, a childhood friend of Noura’s (Abraham Makany), will also attend and yes, he will be the source of conflict as well. Then again, when is a scripted Christmas dinner anything but an opportunity for secrets to be revealed and conflicts to come to a head?

Denmo Ibrahim

Denmo Ibrahim is terrific in the title role and never more so than in the show’s quietest moments. She communicates as much with her visage as she does with the script. Mattico David, who’s played the role of Tareq off-Broadway, is also excellent as Noura’s husband who, despite his protestations, has not left quite everything from the old country behind. There’s good supporting work from Nazzal and Makany.  

Playwright Raffo packs a lot into her 90-minute examination of a woman on the edge. Noura’s issue of the loss of her identity through assimilation runs deeps but there’s a lot more going on with her. Past decisions have come back to haunt her, and her desire to make everything right may have the opposite effect. We’ll never know as the Kate Bergstrom-directed play concludes on an ambiguous note after a drawn-out ending.

While a bit overstuffed (believe me, there’s a lot more going on than I’ve indicated), Noura is an interesting take on the modern émigré experience.

‘Noura’ runs Tuesday–Sunday through February 9 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Tues – Sat, 7:30pm; Sat & Sun, 2pm. $10–$60. 415.388.5208. marintheatre.org.

Photos by Kevin Berne

This review originally appeared in an edited version in the Pacific Sun.

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