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Rehana Lew Mirza's heartfelt, but often clunky drama addresses prejudices that fomented with ugly repercussions in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist-attack.

Pooja Kumar and Jon Norman Schneider in Barriers
(© Imaginoor Photography)
Rehana Lew Mirza's Barriers, now being revived at HERE, is an undeniably heartfelt, indisputably well-meaning, but often clunky 2002 drama about prejudices that fomented with ugly repercussions in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist-attack.

Packing views of intolerance in from all quarters, Mirza introduces Pakistani dad Khalil (Rajeev Varma), Chinese mom Naima (Eileen Rivera), and their slacker son Shehriar (Jon Norman Schneider), assimilating daughter Sunima (Pooja Kumar), as well as dead son Nabhil (Sunkrish Bala), a Twin Towers victim who is haunting his family on a daily basis, with memories of his relaxed goodness.

The play concerns what happens to the devastated Muslim American family during a visit from Sunima, who has been keeping away from them while falling in love with -- and becoming engaged to -- clean-cut and very white Connecticut nice guy Roger (Joe Petrilla). While Roger has obtained the okay from his parents on the inter-religion marriage, Sunima is still reluctant to spread the happy news to her clan.

Apparently long a healing force in the family, Sunima is greeted by Naima, Shehriar, and Khalil as the answer to their own bones of contention: Naima is convinced her husband is having an affair; Shehriar's only amusement comes from defying his elders (particularly his mother's addiction to Bollywood DVDs); and Khalil is unable to reconcile his grief over losing his older offspring and the anti-Muslim bias he feels acutely.

Unfortunately, Sunima not only proves unable to defuse the rampant emotions, all she does is provide one more inflammatory subject to rant over. For some time, the only interruption to all the quarreling -- and just as annoying -- is a ringing telephone that Naima thinks is Khalil's girlfriend calling and hanging up.

To Mirza's credit, there is one extraordinarily strong revelation that comes along just before the brief first act's end; it has to do with an image of the deceased Nabhil under the word "Missing" that Khalil carries as a reminder of the hatred that surfaced after the Al-Qaeda attack, and which still lingers in some quarters to this day.

In the second act, Mirza also gets some dramatic mileage by having the likable and remarkably understanding Roger travel to Jersey in an attempt to retrieve Sunima. The struggle that occurs more or less immediately between Shehriar and Roger is a credible illustration of the understandably deep-seated anti-white prejudice some Muslims must feel.

Director Colette Roberts has helped her actors to maximize the sympathetic aspects of these characters. But while their motives may be recognizable, their relentlessly argumentative behavior nonetheless can try audience members' patience.