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- Category: Culture
Written by Egyptian-American playwright Yussef El Guindi, Language Rooms wrestles with many of the major themes of American identity: immigration, family disconnect, office politics, personal loyalty, and the targeted suspicion that has fallen on Muslim-Americans in post-9/11 America. The minimal set and the spare cast of only four characters leave room for the raw emotions to work without distraction. The plot is perhaps a bit contrived, but it serves as an interesting vehicles for its deepest explored theme: the father-son relationship, one that is painfully complicated by the difficulty a son raised in the United States has relating to his first generation immigrant father. It is here that the play really shines, striking chords that are truly universal.
Set in a CIA interrogation facility in an undisclosed location, the story centers around Ahmed, played by James Asher. He is a socially awkward, Egyptian-American interrogator trying desperately to fit in and to prove his staunch patriotism. Of course, as so often the case, the harder he tries the worse it gets. Ultimately, he ends up having to prove his loyalty by interrogating a high value prisoner.
To Ahmed’s horror - and ours - the prisoner turns out to be his own father, Samir, brilliantly portrayed by Terry Lamb. Before we even have time to fully digest the nightmare of the situation, it gets worse. The painful dynamic of the father-son relationship asserts itself, proving more powerful even than the dire situation the two men find themselves in. In no time, it is Ahmed who is writhing in the hot seat as his father turns the tables and begins to interrogate him on every aspect of his life, how much money is he making, is he under-appreciated etc. etc.
We cringe in our seats as the all too familiar family dynamics play themselves out in front of us. Who has not felt caught up in these archetypal currents? Our sympathies ping pong back and forth from father to son.
Samir, the father, has already won our hearts in the first act with a series of monologues which detail the story of his immigration from Egypt and his struggles to raise his family in this cold and foreign land. Immigration is not for sissies he tells us; the price for a better life is always higher than you think it will be when you set out. He poignantly describes how you can move the body, but not the heart.
Ahmed, the interrogator who obviously never had any compunction about using all the “tools” in his toolbox, instantly turns into a helpless boy once again, shriveling up under his father’s sharp tongue. We can’t help but sympathize with him as well. He doesn’t stand a chance. His father can play him like a master musician, never missing a note.
And then- the moment of truth. Time stops. Place is forgotten. Each man tells the other what they have never been able to say before. Words are spoken that can never be undone. But we all know that there is no way out of this situation anyway. They are entwined in each other’s tragedy.
Samir has sacrificed his own life for the future, for his children. “What other reason is there for anyone to do something so insane” as leaving their homeland, he wonders. Although he obviously could never make a life for himself in America, and perhaps never even tried, he has lived for his children and their success. He didn’t even allow them to speak Arabic in their home so they would fit in.
And yet his son obviously never belonged anywhere either. Ashamed of his father, who wore traditional dress and insisted on bringing his prayer rug to pray in the mall, Ahmed went as far in the other direction as he possibly could. But he was still a stranger in a strange land.
In perhaps the most profound moment of the play, Ahmed, talking about his father, anguishes, “What kind of an idiot can’t shake off his own country and yet insists that his children know nothing about it?”
Nothing is really resolved in this play. We never know if the father is ‘innocent’ or not, we never know whether either man will ever get out of detention or not. And none of the painful issues of their relationship are resolved, either. But can these issues ever really be put to rest for any of us?
Perhaps the most that can ever happen is that we sit in the room together and speak the truth.
Language Rooms: written by Yussef El Guindi, directed by Evren Odcikin. Presented by Golden Thread Productions and Latino Theater Company. Performances at Los Angeles Theatre Center, Theatre 2, 514 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, CA, 90013. 8pm Thursdays-Saturdays. Closes June 24. Tickets run $10. Running time: 2 hours. Cast: Mujahid Abdul-Rashid, James Asher, William Dao and Terry Lamb. Note: This production does include nudity.By Eve Chayes Lyman, Aslan Media Contributing Writer
*Photo Credit: David Allen Studio and waltarrrrr
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