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The Perfect Prayer

a World Premiere
CATEGORY : COMEDY DRAMA
by Suehyla El-Attar

COMPANY : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Horizon Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
ID# 1633

SHOWING : May 26, 2006 - June 25, 2006

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

A comedy-drama about a young Muslim-American Southerner coming to terms with her faith and culture. Hadia was raised in a traditional Arab-Muslim household in the buckle of the Southern Bible Belt, Mississippi. Hadia's journey into adulthood forces her to confront her deepest questions and fears about her beliefs, her parents, the Muslim traditions she was taught to respect, and how all of them clash with the American culture in which she lives. In this classic tale of self-discovery, Hadia must learn to balance her two cultures on her own terms.


CAST & CREW LIST
Playwrite Suehyla El-Attar
Director Lisa Adler
Production Stage Manager Ronnie L. Campbell
Mother Marianne Fraulo
Hadia Megan Hayes
Adam Tyler Owens
Dr. Emir Tom Thon
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Common Threads
by Dedalus
Friday, June 9, 2006
4.0
A few months ago, I took to task Alliance’s production of “Bluish” for failing in its projected goal of letting us “see ourselves” on the stage. Now, along comes Horizon’s production of “The Perfect Prayer” by Suehyla El-Attar, one of the more memorable actors from “Bluish.” The plays are superficially similar – in each, a young woman comes to terms with her religious identity (Jewish in “Bluish,” Muslim in “Mooslimish” … er … “A Perfect Prayer”). Yet, the two plays are miles apart in their affect, most notably in their efforts to find the “common thread” between their characters and those of us who do not share their faith.

Let’s look at some of the threads in these two productions:

(1) The Faith Thread: In “Bluish,” faith is seen as an integral part of a person, something they are born with. “Perfect Prayer” looks on faith as something acquired, something that answers specific emotional and “spiritual” needs. At one point, the main character (Hadia) asks her father when he chose Islam – or, more accurately, if he would have chosed Islam if he hadn’t been born to it. Hadia’s own faith is stifled when it is forced on her by her parents, but comes alive when it provides solace when she most needs it. Hadia’s father, in fact, emphasizes that without doubt, there can be no true faith, without questioning. As a person with no faith, I can not only respond to this idea, but can cheer it – my own journey away from faith came about because the religion I was born to no longer answered any needs or provided any answers, while the contemplation of an unguided mysterious universe answers my wonderment at questions, at mysteries. I made the final leap from faith when I realized the “answers” religion provided to mysteries were duller than the questions themselves. Though Hadia ends the play with her faith intact, this questions/answers preference is obviously something we share.

(2) The Family Thread: Both plays show us family dynamics that ring true – loved ones who are maddeningly stifling, irritatingly close, and unashamedly loving. These are the people you can’t live with or without. They are the the ones who lovingly drive you away and angrily bring you closer, making you feel guilty that you’re alive, at the same time making you feel alive when you’re with them. This, more than anything else, is what both plays get right, what audiences of any religious belief can believe and respond to.

(3) The Love Thread: Both plays featuring young couples in relationships that are tried and tested by the slingshot chaos of religious feeling. In “Bluish,” the relationship fails. “Perfect Prayer” takes a more optimistic approach – the relationship is loud and angry and real, yet it probably will survive for the same reasons that religion continues – it answers real emotional needs and provides answers to less mysterious but no less consuming questions.

(4) The Fish-Out-Of-Water Thread: Both plays feature characters in places you would not expect – Jews and Muslims in the South. Both find humor in the contradictions implicit in that. Both skirt a little closely to the edge of caricature, but both give their characters enough individuality to come alive as real people

There are some things about “Perfect Prayer” I find slightly irritating – during the father’s “Islamic Thought” lectures, he addresses the audience as if we were part of his class; unfortunately this is undercut by the placement of the characters who are actually part of the class – it comes across not as a stylistic flourish to “break the fourth wall,” but as a prententious “I’m dropping out of character to lecture you now” piece of direction. Also, the lighting design was filled with gobo-like shadows that made little sense and confused some of the time/place disconnects in the script.

On the other hand, the set with its five columns was brilliant in its simplicity and utility, if a bit obvious in its symbolism (by the way, would it be politically incorrect if I would ask if Muslims joke about how incredibly phallic Minarets look?).

Plays with religious themes sometimes come with evangelical purposes masking an underlying distrust and dislike for those “who do not believe.” “Bluish,” unfortunately, left this unpleasant aftertaste. “A Perfect Prayer,” on the other hand, uses religion as a means to expose character, and as a means to drive plot. It left me feeling exhilarated, not the least because it actually reaffirmed my own “spiritual outlook” while simultaneously increasing my understanding of Islam. Judging from the reaction of the mostly non-Muslim audience I saw the play with, Ms. El-Attar succeeded in finding the Common Threads that bind us together despite our differences.

To torture my metaphor a final time, if “Bluish” came across like a threadbare prayer shawl, “A Perfect Prayer” comes across as a vibrantly complete and whole prayer rug. In my mind, that makes it an almost perfect play.

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)





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