By Beki Pineda
WISDOM FROM EVERYTHING – Written by Mia McCullough; Directed by Seema Sueko. Produced by Local Theater Company (The Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut) through March 25, 2018. Tickets available at 303-444-7328 or thedairy.org.
There appears to be nothing in Mia McCullough’s background that would prepare her to write this powerful multi-cultural story about the war in Syria and the sometimes desperate steps people take to escape. Born in New York, a degree from Northwestern, an early career as a stand up comic before becoming serious about writing for the theatre, she has now written twenty plays (at last count) that have been produced all over the country. The seriousness of the subject matter of her scripts belie the whimsy of her personal style and the Midwest comfort of her life. She is obviously a devoted researcher and possesses an empathetic view of the world.
WISDOM FROM EVERYTHING was performed last year as a staged reading in the Local Theater Company’s Local Lab, a new play festival (the 2018 version is coming up on April 20-22, 2018, at the Dairy). McCullough’s play was brought to the attention of the Local group by Rachel Fowler, long associated with the group and a former classmate of McCullough’s. This production was born from that reading and placed in the very able hands of the Local team including director Seema Sueko. The cast comes from around the country and are led by Mehry Eslaminia who has appeared at the Denver Center, Curious Theatre, and Creede Rep.
Because of her grades, Farzana, a young Syrian woman, is given a chance for an university education by virtue of an arranged marriage to an older doctor. The doctor is being pressured into marriage by his mother and figures if he has to get married, he might as well wed someone he can help achieve a better place in the world. But this means leaving her sister (who is posing as a boy for safety’s sake) and her mother back in the refugee camp. As her story progresses and she moves into a small but comfortable flat with her husband, the war torn countryside exists just outside her windows and always in her mind and heart.
Not only must she deal with the heartache and worry about her family, she also enters into the complicated world of the doctor. He has a tortured relationship with his mother who assumes the marriage has been arranged for procreation because of HER need for a grandchild. Miryam, the mother, has a Philippine maid – slave, actually – whom she mistreats. Her husband arranges for one of his associates to tutor Farzana to prepare her for the University exams. She can’t help but be drawn to his gentle ways. Their unified fear of Miryam’s anger creates awkward situations all round. Cultural and religious expectations further complicate an already complicated situation.
There are no happy endings here but what there is is a deeper understanding of the pain of separation, the fear that comes with the loss of communication, the desperation to save your loved ones and the overwhelming loss of freedoms caused by this war. . .any war. This talented cast brings all this to life. Naseem Etemad as Tamar, the younger sister with her hair in a boy cut, only allows her feminine side to show during scenes of farewell with her sister. Yusef Lambert as the gruff but sensible Asef brings just the right balance of impatience and kindness to his role as the husband. As the young socially aware assistant, Kunal Prasad walks the fine line between “appropriate” behavior and the desire to help. Local actress Ayla Sullivan, a student at CU, vacillates between the dead eyes of a person caught in a hopeless situation and the optimistic instinct of a young person.
The war of wills between Amy J. Carle as Miryam, the domineering mother, and Mehry Eslaminia as the strong minded Farzana creates a seesaw of power. Which will win out? The old ways with its well-defined rules for a wife in a patriarchal society or the independence and self-determination of the younger generation? This battle was interesting enough and could have been placed in a number of cultural settings. The war seemed almost peripheral to the story of Farzana; as though the story of Tamar could be another play entirely. Mehry’s work was amazing to watch, mostly because it did not seem like “work”. She was not acting; she was being Farzana with all her insecurities, strengths, her curiosity, and her inherent goodness. Anything could have happened on the stage and Mehry would have reacted in exactly the way Farzana would have, so complete was her immersion in the role.
If you have the good fortune to obtain one of the few remaining tickets to this performance which only runs through next weekend, pay particular attention to the use of light throughout the play. Designed by Jacob Welch, the light brings the war back into your consciousness in unexpected ways and times.
Representing Local Theater Company, Rachel Fowler said, after the reading last year, “I hope the story resonates. . .in terms of the humanity of these refugees, the horrors they’ve seen and the choices they’ve had to make.” For those that oppose the entry of Muslims into the United States, “(it) might inspire some empathy. . .and open our hearts a little bit.” Be sure to notice the art work on display in the halls going into the theatre. They are drawings from the children of the Za’atari Refugee Camp showing views of their lives and hopes for the future. If they don’t open your hearts, nothing will.
A WOW factor of 9!