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Wisdom from Everything

While Americans continue to allow themselves to be distracted by the scripted serial crimes of the red and blue political party brands, their puppet masters, the powers-that-be, continue their nearly unimpeded destruction of nation after nation, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and now Syria, killing millions and displacing even more.

(Left to right) Naseem Etemad as Tamer and Mehry Eslminia as Farzana
(L to R) Naseem Etemad as Tamer
and Mehry Eslminia as Farzana
Photo: Michael Ensminger
 
In this world premiere produced by Local Theater Company in Boulder, playwright Mia McCullough zeroes in on the personal ravages of these imperial wars, through the eyes of Farzana (Mehry Eslaminia), a refugee from Syria—who agrees to an arranged marriage with an older medical doctor and researcher, Asef (Yusef Lambert), who brings her to Jordan and insists on paying for her continuing education. Farzana leaves behind her mother (a pharmacist at a make-shift clinic in the war zone), and her and sister, Tamer (Naseem Etemad), who disguises herself as a boy to protect herself in the lawless countryside.

(Left to right) Mehry Eslaminia as Farzana and Amy J. Carle as Miryam
(L to R) Mehry Eslaminia as Farzana
and Amy J. Carle as Miryam
Photo: Michael Ensminger
 
While continuing her studies with a tutor—her husband's research assistant, Dallin (Kunal Prasad), a young doctor—Farzana must face a hostile mother-in-law, Miryam (Amy J. Carle), and her indentured Filipino maid, Perla (Ayla Sullivan), who serves as her mistress' spy.

In times of war, which means virtually all of history, there are no bystanders, even if there are those who delude themselves into thinking they are untouched by the slaughter and the massive waste of global resources, all in service to the hegemony of a very small number of people. McCullough underscores this point by drawing everyone into the maelstrom of the conflict, without dwelling on the political and economic forces driving it, which serves to cut to the chase, that is, the human toll of resource wars.

Naseem Etemad as Tamer
Naseem Etemad as Tamer
Photo: Michael Ensminger
 
Eslaminia finds the core of every emotional twist and turn of Farzana's challenging road. It is a remarkable performance about a woman overcoming the obstacles to her own education and self-sufficiency, while never forgetting what she has lost and sacrificed to get there. All of this is etched in Eslaminia's face, voice, and body language.

As Tamer, Farzana's young sister, Etemad captures a childhood that must deal with a world manipulated by highly dysfunctional adults, who have brought about the Syrian killing fields. As staged by director Seema Sueko, Tamer is often seen behind Farzana's apartment in a rough, dramatic landscape (by Susan Crabtree), trying to navigate between the bullets and the ruthless soldiers and smugglers. In addition to the idealism of youth that remains, Etmad infuses a stoic and brave current in Tamer that amplifies the stakes.

Yusef Lambert as Asef
Yusef Lambert as Asef
Photo: Michael Ensminger
 
At first, no one knows what to make of Asef's motives for marrying the young, but motivated, Farzana. In Lambert's portrayal, Asef's respect for research, science, and logic, as well as his intolerance for the rigidity of religious and class rules, come through in a low-key and well-reasoned manner, providing a compelling yardstick for what is largely missing in today's global conversation. Yet, he is not without his secrets.

Kunal Prasad as Dallin and Mehry Eslaminia as Farzana
Kunal Prasad as Dallin
and Mehry Eslaminia as Farzana
Photo: Michael Ensminger
 
While she is a woman coming of age, Farzana's sexual awakening is mostly subtextual, a tension below the surface, left hanging by her husband's obsession with his research, and her forbidden feelings for Dallin, who is kind, handsome, attracted to her, and promised to someone else. Prasad draws upon Dallin's subtextual feelings as well, and humorously suppresses them, hiding behind Dallin's impeccable Indian manners.

In a world where scarcity is the general (and manufactured) rule, and class status is a means of survival, Miryam's attempt to control her childrens' future, in particular Asef, as well as her Scrooge-like greed, provide the grounds for a truly scary woman, right out Cruella de Vil's playbook. Carle is fully committed to the intensity required, filling us with dread at every entrance, as she stalks Farzana and hounds Asef, who has thwarted her arranged marriage strategy.

Ayla Sullivan as Perlo
Ayla Sullivan as Perlo
Photo: Michael Ensminger
 
In a coup d'maître, playwright McCullough explores the seamy side of the global labor market—where poor folks are brought across borders and become virtual slaves in exchange for their menial physical labor—by inventing Perlo as Miryam's servant. Sullivan's physical indications and initial aversion of eye contact tell it all. Yet, there is a catharsis here, too, thanks to Farzana's righteousness.

Local Theater Company's world premiere of Mia McCullough's Wisdom from Everything runs through March 25th. For tickets: http://www.localtheaterco.org/wisdom-from-everything.

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