Right: Hazem Shammas was Amir.
Deanne Scott's after-show party follow the review.
By Ayad Akhtar
Directed by Nadia Tass
Queensland Theatre and Melbourne Theatre Company production
Queensland Performing Arts Centre
Season: October 14-November 6. Bookings: 136 246
There was not a cough or a shuffle from the audience; just a silence that screamed with tension as this remarkable American play crept towards its climax. The four characters that began with mild disagreements and faux verbal battles had lost their jocular mood as hidden, primitive prejudices emerged from the veneer of tolerance and civilisation. Amir was the upward bound lawyer in a Jewish law firm, who said he was Indian. But his friend knew that he was born Abdullah, a Pakistani Muslim, who in the post 9-11 years in the US had denounced his religion and heritage and worked hard to become “American”.
His Caucasian wife Emily was an artist who had absorbed the Muslim artistic heritage into her own while studying the artworks in the mosques of Moorish Spain while Jewish art dealer Isaac was sceptical about the saleability of her work. His African-American wife Jory was another ambitious member of the same law firm as Amir.
Then everything started to gel, Emily’s painting were finally accepted for exhibition, Amir was feeling confident about being made a partner in the firm; and then an article in the newspaper connected Amir, wrongly, with the legal defence of a Muslim radical and his life slowly untangled.
When Isaac and Jory are invited for a dinner to celebrate Emily’s success, the jocular debate on racism slowly turns into darkness and, like the frog in the saucepan, the audience didn’t notice the heat until the pot was at boiling point. This was done by author Ayad Akhtar with a line here and there that created a simple slip of the tongue or a chance remark that left an awkward silence on stage and gasps from the audience,
Ancient prejudices leaked out, shocking, absolutely unforeseeable secrets are revealed, and Amir’s life is torn apart even more when young Muslim family friend Abe (Kane Falsinger) is arrested in a diner and asks Amir for help, which is refused. Abe accuses Amir of betraying his own people and the man sees his “American” facade crumble by racism from both sides.
This is a cleverly plotted play, brilliantly directed by Nadia Tass, that never once hinted at the events ahead so each reveal was a shock in itself, which of course kept the audience spellbound and as the final lights faded on Amir the silence was deafening until it erupted in wild applause.
The four actors were superb. Three of them were performing for the 56th time on this opening night of the final run of a national tour while the fourth, Libby Munro slotted beautifully into the role of Emily.
Hazem Shammas was Amir and he shone as he slowly descended from sophistication into despair and frustrated fury. It was a stunning performance that hit right to the heart of so much that is current in today’s society worldwide.
We saw another fine performance from Mitchell Butel as Isaac, another character who was not all he seemed to be and the cast was neatly rounded off by Zindzy Okenyo as Jory.
Is it anti-Muslim or anti-American? No, just a reflection on the attitudes of everyday people that a world filled with conflict and fear have created. It is a fine piece of gripping theatre.
Mitchell Butel and Libby Munro
Eric Scott with Hazem Shammas (left) and Queensland Theatre Artistic Director Sam Strong
Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre always put on a very pretty - and edible - feast for opening nights