Notes from Philly weblog

Yussef El Guindi’s “Language Rooms”

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Sevan Greene and Nasser Faris (Photo: Jim Roese)


Language Rooms (Yussef El Guindi)
The Wilma (world premiere)
March 9 – April 4, 2010

The price of a better life is higher than we think. That’s one lesson of Language Rooms at The Wilma. Yussef El Guindi’s ferocious 15th comedy which tackles issues of immigration close to the bone. Here, Arab- American tensions in an unidentified government workplace, also becomes a stirring father-son drama. The focus of the world premiere early on is the bureaucrat who tries the soul as he undermines a young Arab-American played by Sehvan Greene. Peter Jay Fernandez is the snark with the perfect smile. Who can you trust? Fernandez is superb as Kevin the egregious employer who plays his Arab employees against each other. Ahmed’s best bud is played by J. Paul Nicholas. The boss spouts psycho- babble and religion. Takes out the ironing board to press the creases out of his shirt. He’s on the way up: no wrinkles for Kevin. Ahmed’s full of wrinkles and worries.
Ahmed’s one of only two Arab translators working offshore for a U.S. agency. The time is now, the work is spurious; loyalties are questioned. Paranoia in Ola Maslick’s dental- bright space. Ahmed’s in denial about the trouble he’s having fitting in. The self hate beneath the surface.
Language Rooms, keeps the audience laughing in the first act act but it lumbers. Things shift in the second act, which is still pretty funny – torture by milk for those lactose intolerant Muslims – but the drama intensifies. L.A. actor Nasser Faris as Ahmed’s father gives a terrific performance. After unconvincing work in the first act, Greene as Ahmed begins to shine, anger is a powerful tool. The laughs stop; there is pathos. The plot, which has been predictable, delivers a surprise; then Faris lingers over lines, spinning nostalgia.
El Guindi, who has been a citizen almost as many years as his 15 plays, aims for the view of the 2nd generation. (Though he himself was born in Egypt, educated at the University of Cairo, as well as in the Stages.) Language Rooms at The Wilma disturbs and it is funny. The play feels structurally uneven but brings a welcome voice to Philadelphia. Blanka Zizka directs.


Written by Lesley Valdes

March 12, 2010 at 5:10 pm

One Response

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  1. A fair review.

    B Pearson

    March 21, 2010 at 2:52 am

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