Noura, Shakespeare Theatre Company

In eleventh grade, my World Literature class read A Doll's House and, to be frank, my mind was blown.  I thought I had been reading a story about a woman maneuvering to escape the threat of blackmail until suddenly, none of that mattered compared to the discovery of her own agency. We read that final scene aloud in class and as the kids say, I was shook.  It can be easy to forget the power of a story that you assume everyone knows, until you remember that not everyone is up on their Ibsen (or their Chekhov, or their Shakespeare).  Nora walked out of her marriage and shook the world as the door slammed shut behind her. The power of that story is still there for us to rediscover and rekindle again and again; it's what a classical theatre company is here to do.

But sometimes, you need to push a little harder and create something new out of the bricks that have held up a classic for over a hundred years. Heather Raffo has taken the ideas that swirl underneath Ibsen's play and created Noura, in which she plays another woman who realizes that she stands at a crossroads in her life and in her own conception of herself.  As the Shakespeare Theatre Company's contribution to the Women's Voices Theatre Festival, Raffo's play, directed by Joanna Settle and starring Raffo herself as the title character, is a compelling case for the ways in which a classical theatre can serve as a home for challenging new works.

Photo of Heather Raffo by Scott Suchman.
Noura isn't A Doll's House, and that's a good thing.  We already have Doll's House, after all, and Raffo's play can exist in dialog with it while also finding new territory to explore.  Raffo wisely spends much of the first half of the evening building and exploring her own characters before the play shifts into teasing out its relationship with Ibsen's story. Here, Noura struggles to understand herself as a woman, wife, and mother while also grappling with the complexities of being a refugee from a cherished home that no longer exists in a new country that won't let her rest easy.  Noura asserts her own success story even as she begins to realize piece by piece all the ways in which her story falls apart upon closer examination. 

Raffo is absolutely riveting as the center of this production, but the entire ensemble does excellent work, especially Nabil Elouahabi as her husband Tareq and Dahlia Azama as Maryam, the fellow refugee that Noura is desperate to welcome into her family circle. Each character is finely and distinctly drawn, giving the audience a myriad of points of view on their ties to their former homes in Mosul, Iraq and the new homes they are creating in America. Specificity is the soul of narrative, and the doorway through which audiences discover the universal, and every detail that Raffo pours into her play rings with the truth of lived experience (Raffo's program notes refer to how the play was shaped by speaking with Arab American women and drawing upon her own family history).  If there is a moment when the story falters, it is perhaps only when it stretches beyond those specificities to grasp too tightly for the universal, but this doesn't diminish the power in Raffo's narrative.

Settle's production is supported by Andrew Lieberman's scenic design, creating the spaces inside and outside Noura and Tareq's home, made both inviting or starkly vacant by Masha Tsimring's lighting design. Obadiah Eaves's south design is bolstered with recorded spoken text by Ni Qasey to continue to widen our perception of the world of the play.

Noura's trials and revelations are not my own, but then, neither are Nora Helmer's.  In a theatrical scene that has been dominated for countless years by the stories of cisgendered white men, the Women's Voices Theatre Festival exists to open the door to other perspectives on the world.  Noura's story is one that deserves to be heard, especially here and now.  Noura is timely, compelling, and thought-provoking drama that I urge you to see.


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