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Yasmina’s Necklace
by Rohina Malik
Directed by Deanna Jent
Mustard Seed Theatre
January 27, 2017

Adam Flores, Parvuna Sulamain Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Adam Flores, Parvuna Sulamain
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

At a time when immigration and the plight of refugees is at the forefront of the news, Yasmina’s Necklace is an extremely timely play for Mustard Seed Theatre to be staging. Yasmina Malik’s story centering on a matchmaking of two very different young Muslim-Americans explores many issues but is ultimately a strong portrayal of one woman’s perseverance amid serious trials. This production boasts an extremely strong cast, especially for the two romantic leads.

Sam (Adam Flores) is a young Chicago man who has recently changed his name from Abdul Samir to avoid workplace discrimination and to assimilate more into American culture. His parents, Puerto Rican-born Sara (Maritza Motta Gonzalez) and Arab-born Ali (Chuck Winning) are not pleased. They’re also not pleased with Sam’s marriage to a non-Muslim American which has only recently ended in divorce, and they’re determined to set him up with a nice girl to help him forget his troubles. With the advice and assistance of their Venezuelan-born Imam, Rafi (Jaime Zayas), they arrange an introduction to Yasmina (Parvuna Sulamain), who has fled war-torn Iraq to join her father Musa (Amro Salama) in Chicago. Musa was a respected dentist in Iraq, but has trouble finding a job in Chicago and seeks employment as a taxi driver. He’s a doting father to Yasmina, who is as uninterested in a match with Sam as Sam is, although upon meeting they gradually hit it off. Yasmina, an artist who seeks to start an organization to assist refugees, has a mysterious past that she’s reluctant to share, although we see glimpses of it in her remembrances of her life in Iraq and her relationship with childhood friend Amir (Ethan Joel Isaac), whose story we eventually learn and who figures greatly in Yasmina’s personal story and that of the prized necklace that she wears. Although her relationship with Sam is at the forefront of the story, her backstory is the key to unlocking what drives Yasmina and explains her sometimes unusual behavior toward Sam and his family.

This is a mostly well-structured play that focuses a lot on domestic situations but also features some strategically-placed flashbacks that help illuminate the story of its most fascinating character, Yasmina. With a well-realized set by Kyra Bishop that features different performance areas representing the homes of Yasmina’s and Sam’s families, as well as a central area that represents Yasmina’s memories of Iraq, the play shows some interesting portrayals of Muslim characters from different cultural backgrounds, as well as a devastating reminder of the horrors of war. Jane Sullivan’s authentic, detailed costumes and Michael Sullivan’s striking lighting design contribute well to the story, augmenting the performances of the strong cast, led by the remarkable performance of Sulamain as the compelling, enigmatic Yasmina.

Sulamain is the unquestioned star of this show, portraying a convincing, sympathetic and complex character who is trying to find a future amidst the memories of her past. ┬áHer scenes are the strongest in the play, and she’s well-matched by Flores as the conflicted but increasingly hopeful Sam. They have a real, sweet chemistry that drives the story well. Salama as Yasmina’s loving but perplexed father Musa is also a stand-out, coming across well in both comic and dramatic moments. Gonzalez and Winning are also excellent as Sam’s somewhat overbearing but well-meaning parents, and Zayas makes a good impression as the affable Imam Rafi. Isaac as the earnest Amir is also strong, especially in the second act when his story is finally told. The strongest moments of the story, though, are those featuring the developing relationship between Yasmina and Sam, which is at turns funny, charming, intense, and fascinating.

Yasmina’s Necklace is another excellent example of Mustard Seed Theatre’s focus on portraying different cultural and faith perspectives. It’s a rich portrayal of well-realized characters that’s at once entertaining, educational, and incisive. It’s definitely worth checking out.

Maritza Motta Gonzalez, Amro Salama, Adam Flores, Parvuna Sulamain, Chuck Winning, Jaime Zayas Photo by John Lamb Mustard Seed Theatre

Maritza Motta Gonzalez, Amro Salama, Adam Flores, Parvuna Sulamain, Chuck Winning, Jaime Zayas
Photo by John Lamb
Mustard Seed Theatre

Mustard Seed Theatre is presenting Yasmina’s Necklace at Fontbonne University until February 12, 2017.

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