Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Human Festival 2012: The Hour of Feeling

[Originally posted to the 88.1 KDHX blog]

The Hour of Feeling by Mona Mansour
Directed by Mark Wing-Davey
The Humana Festival of New American Plays at Actors Theatre of Louisville
Through April 1, 2012

Live video blog review with Joan Lipkin of The Vital Voice

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Synopsis: “It’s 1967 and the map of the Middle East is about to change drastically. Fueled by a love of English Romantic poetry, Adham journeys from Palestine to London with his new wife, Abir, to deliver a career-defining lecture. As the young couple’s marriage is tested, Adham struggles to reconcile his ambitions with the pull of family and home. But what if seizing the moment means letting go of everything he knows?”

As the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy once noted, we are a nation of immigrants. Outside of the alternate reality inhabited by the current round of paranoid nativists, the history of America is a history of immigration, so stories of people forced to leave their homelands should have real resonance for us. I speak from personal experience here—my grandparents were political and economic refugees.

In light of all this, then, I should have been moved by The Hour of Feeling, but I found this story of a man trapped between two cultures curiously uninvolving. Partly, I think, that’s because Adham is a curiously unsympathetic character who seems to have a surprisingly impoverished inner life for a scholar of poetry. He never seems to connect with anyone, including his wife, and two hours of that sort of disconnect can make for pretty static drama.

It’s hard to know how much of my response to this play stems from the text vs. the direction and acting. Mark Wing-Davey’s pacing seemed slow, though, and some of the blocking choices appeared puzzling, putting the actors in awkward juxtaposition, so I’m inclined to cut the actors some slack.

Given the script and direction, I thought the work of Hadi Tabbal as Adham, Rasha Zamamiri as Abir, and Judith Delgado as Adham’s tough-as-nails mother Beder was very professional. David Barlow and William Connell have the somewhat unenviable task of playing a pair of stereotypical upper-crust academics, as does Marianna McClellan as the flighty girlfriend of one of them, but they make the most of what they’ve been given.

The Hour of Feeling raises some very compelling issues about the meaning of place and home in a world that is becoming increasingly “hot, flat, and crowded” (as Thomas Friedman says). Perhaps a different director might find more life in it. It’s certainly within the technical capabilities of other regional theatres, so it will be interesting to see what future productions make of it.

Join in the discussion on Twitter with the #hf36 and #humanafest hash tags and follow me @clavazzi. Look for Joan Lipkin's reviews at The Vital Voice.

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