Heather Raffo’s Noura brilliantly shows how individuals who have escaped their homelands and immigrated to America for opportunity have identity crises when they don’t assimilate to the country they longed to belong to. Instead, they miss the countries that murdered their families, starved them, raped them, and caused them to flee.
Noura (the playwright, Heather Raffo) is in that crises. She and her family are Chaldean Christians from Mosul, a country she loved until ISIS came and ruined thousands of years of tradition. It is Christmas Eve and she misses the community. In New York City, she has no friends and where, in Iraq, she was an architect, now she has no job. Even though the family has money, Noura has yet to commit to buying furniture (a couch or chairs) for the living room. Her husband, Tareq (Nabil Elouahabi), a surgeon, now works in a hospital emergency room and desperately wants Noura to get pregnant with a daughter.
Their son, Yazen (Liam Campora), has named himself “Alex” and has become Americanized; for that matter, so has Tareq, but not Noura.
With the arrival of an Iraqi orphan Maryam (Dahlia Azam) who has come to America after ISIS bombed the orphanage, Noura’s plight becomes more about herself than those around her. Maryam has won a scholarship to Stanford University and the assurance of a job in the Defense Department. Maryam, however, has a secret that drives a wedge between Noura and her and later, between Noura and Tareq.
With Maryam, Noura’s childhood friend Rafa’a (Matthew David) comes for a visit. He has always loved Noura. Tareq knows this.
As secrets are revealed, so is a grudge Tareq has held against his wife through their entire marriage, which is so hypocritical, you can hear the groans. In the end, the plot points were searing, but the play gets lost in its own lack of identity.
Joanna Settle’s direction is a kaleidoscope of colors, but she loses her battle in understanding Noura or to even have sympathy for her. We lapse into a bizarre version of A Doll’s House, except it’s not.
The cast all give stellar performances and I think Raffo is a better actress than playwright, except we need to have sympathy for Noura and in the end, we have lost it.
Andrew Lieberman’s set is oddly sterile, but the lighting by Masha Tsimring warmed the stage.
Raffo definitely has a voice but I am not sure if she knows how to identify herself or the other identities in the world.
Noura Playwrights Horizon, 416 West 42 St. until Dec. 30th