by Beki Pineda
MOSQUE – Written by Jihad Milhem; Directed by Alexander Evert. Produced by Fearless Theatre (presented at the Bakery, 2132 Market, Denver) through December 15. Tickets available at 720-460-6566 or fearless-theatre.ticketleap.
It is SO HARD to get an idea from the page to the stage. It usually goes through numerous workshops, readings, trial productions, rewrites, etc. before the “final” script is achieved. I’m sure that Mr. Milhem’s script has gone through its fair share of preparatory work, including a reading earlier this year. But this brilliant script feels and sounds finished in its first full production. Its people speak with authenticity and confidence.
Briefly, a Palestinian father and son are trying to come to grips with the turmoil of emotion generated by the events of 9/11. They are American Muslims living in the shadow of the Towers, physically and psychically. Each has a close friend that they rely on for truth and support. When Abdul the father must confront the residue of fear felt by his friend Bobby, their friendship is stretched to the limits. Mo, his son, is trying to find his own place in the world, court a young lady, and deal with his father’s outmoded, but culturally specific behavior. Their world is turned upside down and begins to look like it will never be right again. They are all partially right and partially wrong. It’s not a musical comedy; these characters have to work hard to pull through this crisis in their collective lives.
What is so appealing in this scenario are the characters. Abdul, the confused and angry father as played by Robert Payo, is a picture of frustration when the modern world and way of thinking infringes on the traditional ways. His son does not always honor his rights as a father or the precepts of the Muslim life. His son, Mohammed (or Mo as he is called by his friends), brought to charming life by Abid Hassan, is a relatively new face on the Denver theatre scene but epitomizes the son conflicted by the need to move into the modern world he must live in and his desire to keep his father happy. Sam (a down to earth Danny Ramos) is a laid back friend to both the father and the son and sees the truth in both of their points of view. He tries to help them maneuver the tricky ground of compromise without attaching blame to either.
Abdul also has a friend in Bobby, an African American cab driver who has already experienced the stigma of cultural isolation and tries to keep his bond to Abdul while struggling through his own brand of fear and racism. In their arguments, both step over the line of friendship and say things it will be hard to come back from. But Bobby is strong in his love for both Abdul and Mo and continues to find the balance between his feelings and his friendship.
The fifth character is the young lady, Alice played by Lanie Novack, who Mo is courting in a shy and appealing manner. It’s obvious she is the first girl he has dated. She is obviously smitten but doesn’t make it easy for him. She’s opinionated, stubborn, wise beyond her years, and sensitive to the tensions between father and son. She doesn’t back down but manages to extract herself with grace from uncomfortable dialogues between the two.
Milhem has a gift with natural unfettered dialogue and an ear for the rhythms of friendship. The scenes between the two boys are so realistic, relaxed and lovely. The courtship scenes are heartwarming and free of the need for drama that hinders many playwrights. The arguments are painful and realistic in that, too often the combatants don’t hear each other over their own feelings and say hurtful things they don’t really mean.
I cannot say enough good things about this production. The script is meaningful, thoughtful and authentic. The acting is natural, touching, and compelling. The cast pulls you into the story they are telling and makes you fear for the ever widening chasm between the characters. You want to just shake them and say, “Stop it, you guys!!” Of course, the Bakery is Denver’s little guerilla theatre with concrete floors and brick walls, minimal lighting and production equipment. But for this production, it doesn’t really matter. There’s nothing to distract you from the story being told.
I am left with a joy that the young people of the world are the ones who have a better chance of making it right. We elders just need to get out of their way and let it happen.
So, congratulations to Jihad, Alexander, and this cast for a thrilling theatre evening. If you’ve never been to the Bakery (2132 Market Street in LoDo – Denver), this should be the one to get you there. A very short run – so get on the horn TODAY and order your tickets for next weekend. There should be a standing room only for this show on the one remaining weekend.
A WOW factor of 9.5!