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Food and Fadwa

This new play about a Palestinian family living under Israeli rule is only mildly effective.

Lameece Issaq in Food and Fadwa
(© Joan Marcus)
Food and Fadwa, now at New York Theatre Workshop under Shana Gold's direction, proves to be a mildly effective, if well-acted, look at a Palestinian family dealing with, among its many issues, a harsh Israeli-imposed curfew in their Bethlehem home (nicely designed by Andromache Chalfant).

One suspects, however, that the comedy-drama itself might have been harsher than it is in its treatment of Israeli rule -- there's a brief reference to the loss of an olive-tree orchard, presumably to make room for new Jewish settlements -- but co-authors Lameece Issaq and Jacob Kader clearly opted (perhaps unwisely) for a lower-key approach.

Instead, they've focused on the numerous prickly situations in which outwardly cheerful television host Fadwa Faranesh (Issaq in a role she tailored for herself) could find herself as she guides her imagined audience through traditional Arab recipes -- like baba ganoush and hummus -- while dealing with her closest relatives and friends.

Fadwa's greatest tribulation is learning that boyfriend Youssif Azzam (Haaz Sleiman), returning briefly from a two-year journey to the States, has switched his romantic allegiance to Hayat Johnson (Heather Johnson), another village émigré.

Simultaneously, Fadwa is in charge of senile parent Baba (Laith Nakli), a one-time farmer stripped of his West Bank holdings, and is also overseeing younger sister Dalal (Maha Chehlaoui), whose fiance Emir (Arian Moayed) fails to reach the house when the curfew is announced, causing the imminent bride to spend a week in her wedding dress for superstitious reasons. Not causing Fadwa unnecessary concern -- unless in-coming cellphone calls can be counted as extremely unnerving -- is Aunt Samia (Kathryn Kates).

Hewing to a successful Chekhov formula that devolves into soap opera format, Issac and Kader move from dilemma to dilemma and to charged discussions between and among the characters, with mixed results.

Indeed, from the get-go until the nearly empty-stage finale, there's the hint of The Cherry Orchard throughout the proceedings. Moreover, Fadwa is unmistakably presented as the equivalent of Masha in Uncle Vanya, pining after a man who favors the more attractive Hayat as the Yelena substitute.


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