Ramsey Faragallah and Tala Ashe in Urge for Going
(© Carol Rosegg)
Ramsey Faragallah and Tala Ashe in Urge for Going
(© Carol Rosegg)
Mona Mansour takes theatergoers into the heart of a Lebanese refugee camp in Urge for Going, now playing at the Public Theater. The work, which explores a 17-year-old girl's coming of age, is simultaneously intimate and expansive as it explores the details of her daily life, and ultimately, it has an undeniable ability to touch theatergoers' hearts while also engaging their minds.

Jamila (Tala Ashe) has never known anything other than the rundown home (a decaying cinderblock edifice brought to the stage with eeriness by scenic designer Jason Simms) that she shares with her parents, brother, and two uncles. The claustrophobic and overcrowded space is hardly the place for study, and yet, Jamila is working diligently to prepare for a test that would allow her to get the necessary papers to attend college.

But even before Jamila can take the exam, her intellectually demanding and emotionally distant father Adham (a subtle turn from Ramsey Faragallah) must produce papers to prove his identity. This obstacle proves to be even more thorny than the noise of her squabbling family, as well as her concern over her older brother Jul (a sweet and chameleon-like turn from Omid Abtahi), who was left with severe brain damage after being beaten by soldiers.

As Mansour's play encompasses both the details of Jamila's world and the broader political landscape that has informed her life, the piece is both presentational, with the characters often addressing the audience directly, and naturalistic in the most old-fashioned ways. Unfortunately, when the play settles into a more realistic mode of storytelling, it can become cloyingly sentimental.

Hal Brooks' staging manages to bridge the two modes of storytelling that Mansour employs with aplomb, aided by Tyler Micoleau's sensitive and atmospheric lighting design. But the director is far less successful in guiding Ashe, whose work as the headstrong Jamila is overly -- and unpleasantly -- strident.

Similarly, there's a tendency for all of the performers --- which also include Demosthenes Chrysan and Ted Sod as her uncles and Jacqueline Antaramian as her mother -- to become caricatures as they bellow during the family's increasingly tiresome squabbles. However, they deliver more delicately elsewhere, particularly Antaramian, who impresses as her character looks back on the family's happier past.