Theater review: 'The who and the what' by Ayad Akhtar

That lack of true edge influences the production as well, because the actors don’t really have anything they can get their teeth into.

By HELEN KAYE
January 14, 2018 21:28
1 minute read.
Actor Izik Cohen and actress Alama Dishi in the play 'The who and the what.'

Actor Izik Cohen and actress Alama Dishi in the play 'The who and the what.'. (photo credit: RADI RUBINSTEIN)

Poor Afzal (Izik Cohen). He’s at his wit’s end. Almost can’t attend to business. An immigrant from Pakistan and a self-made man, he owns Atlanta’s biggest cab company. The trouble is Zarina (Alma Dishi), his eldest daughter. First she went and fell in love with a Christian boy – but he put paid that in double-quick time. Now she’s writing a book. A woman, writing a book, when she ought to be having babies, really! He’s got to get her safely married.

Fortunately Zarina likes Dad’s choice and is duly married to Elay (Michael Moshonov).  And then That Book comes out. A blasphemy some call it. A book that examines women and Islam, a book that humanizes the Prophet Muhammad. Please! Isn’t the Koran enough? Thank goodness Mahwish (Yasmin Ayoun) is an obedient Muslim daughter, safely married to childhood sweetheart Aroun. But who’s Manuel?

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And so Akhtar’s knowing, often funny scrutiny of faith, gender, identity and the clash of cultures winds amiably through 90 minutes with none of the deliberate bite that characterizes Disgraced (Cameri, 2015).

That lack of true edge influences the production as well, because the actors don’t really have anything they can get their teeth into. That said, Izik Cohen’s unglamorous, earnest, devoted, set-in-his-ways Afzal decisively dominates the action, and you root for him, even when he’s being unreasonable. Alma Dishi’s conflicted Zarina struggles doggedly through her problems and emerges a whole person. As Elay, Michael Moshonov amply demonstrates that you can’t tell a book by its milquetoast cover, while Yasmin Ayoun does the best she can with Mahwish, whose character Akhtar never quite fleshes out.

Kinnereth Kish has designed revolving sets that suitably backdrop events. Alberto Schwartz’ reticent score highlights the action while the lighting by Hani Vardi and Eli Ashkenazi is properly effective. One must ask however why director Naor agreed to the very ugly costume choices by designer Dalia Penn Heller. Can’t people whose lives get messy – as whose do not – dress more or less well?

The Who and the What.
Made for effect. Enjoyable and forgettable.

Translated and directed by Moshe Naor
Haifa Theater, January 2


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