There’s a certain irony to the timeliness of Mustard Seed’s opening of Yasmina’s Necklace. The play deals with refugees from Iraq who arrived via Syria and the way they adapt to life in the United States. To see it hours after the news that immigration from both those countries as well as five others was being banned put things into a whole different focus.
Yasmina brings us a Muslim family living in Chicago, father Ali (Chuck Winning), Sara (Maritza Motta Gonzalez) and their grown son Sam (Adam Flores). The initial argument is the parents’ horror that the son has changed his first name to Sam in order to reduce workplace discrimination, but we soon learn that the son is recently divorced from his non-Muslim wife, yet another blow to the honor of the family. Mom wasn’t raised in the Islamic faith, she’s Puerto Rican, and converted after she met her college roommate, who was Muslim, and she became interested. But family honor is a concept that transcends ethnic boundaries, and the gnashing of teeth is loud indeed in both parents. Sam is still reeling from the divorce but his parents insist he meet a girl they, and their imam, think would be appropriate. He finally gives accedes and trudges off with them.
Yasmina (Parvuna Sulaiman) is in her 30’s, an artist who works in a grocery store supporting her widowed father Musa (Amro Salama). He’s a dentist, but cannot practice here because of licensure requirements. They’re fairly recent immigrants, far less prosperous than Ali and his family. Yasmina is strong in her national identity and is trying to create a charitable group to work with new immigrants of all persuasions to make the transition easier, something like St. Louis’ International Institute, but in its very early stages. Yasmina, like Sam, is very uninterested in a match. The last years in Iraq and the ones in Syria, where they fled, were pretty awful and she just wants to paint and help other people. But, also like Sam, filial duty makes her agree to meet him and his family, arriving for a visit that is essentially an audition.
After a few tense minutes of the visit, the imam, (Jaime Zayas) arrives as well, and he moves the parents out of the living room to give the young ones a little privacy, although Sam’s mom worries about them being unchaperoned. Sparks fly between the couple, although they’re not the good kind.
But it turns out there’s a reason for him to see her again, and the charity project becomes something they can work on together.
Somehow in this work from playwright Rohina Malik and director Deanna Jent, everything rises above the cliches of boy-meets-girl, mainly because of Yasmina’s backstory, including memory sequences with Amir (Ethan Joel Isaac), her childhood friend. In many ways, the family dynamics are as interesting as the main story line here.
Sulaiman and Flores work well together, both of them carefully restrained with each other. When facing off with their respective elders, things get louder, particularly when Motta Gonzalez and Winning lay siege. Salama, playing the refugee dentist, is enjoyable, as well, a man who understands a well-placed pleading is frequently more effective than raising one’s voice.
An intriguing set from Kyra Bishop with work from Emily Kay Rice and Jim Moxley, lights from Michael Sullivan and costumes, both humble and elegant, from Jane Sullivan, all add to the feel of the production.
Another good look into an experience far from most St. Louisans.
through February 12
Mustard Seed Theatre
6800 Wydown Blvd