Recommended *** Victory Gardens production of “The Who and the What” is a wonderful family story that rings so true. It made me laugh and it made me think. In fact, it gave me a whole new perspective on culture, religion and assimilation. I give “The Who and the What” 4 Spotlights.
Mahwish (Minita Gandhi), a nursing student, is engaged to a man she met when she was nine years old. She firmly believes that the older sister should be married first, she’s determined to find a man for her sister, Zarina (Susaan Jamshidi). Busy writing a book, Zarina isn’t interested in marriage, so she flat out refuses to put her profile on line. Although they frequently argue, they are close enough to share a few secrets.
Their father, Afzal (Rom Barkhordar), an immigrant from Pakistan and successful (he owns the third largest taxi company in Atlanta) businessman agrees that Zarina should be married. Eli (Shane Kenyon) arrives at a restaurant for coffee with someone he met online. Instead of a young woman, he gets Afzal, who is interviewing potential husbands for Zarina. Eli, an American convert to Islam, is an Imam at a mosque nearby.
When Afzal suggests that she meet someone, Zarina gets suspicious. He keeps pushing, she keeps resisting, then he proudly admits that he’s been meeting and interviewing men – men who read her online profile. He’s chosen this man for her. When she says she doesn’t want to meet anyone, she just wants to finish her book, Afzal says he should never have let her go to Harvard. Zarina had been in love with an Irish guy she met in grad school, but Afzal made her break up with him, so playing the “dutiful daughter” card backfires on him.
Zarina gives in, meets and eventually marries Eli, who is supportive while she’s writing her book on gender politics and the Muslim religion. In one of the best scenes in the play, Zarina confronts Eli – she gave him her manuscript three days ago, and he hasn’t said anything. She is totally irrational, while he’s trying to be reasonable which just infuriates her. Their behavior and body language during this argument was absolutely spot-on.
Eli thinks the book is brilliant, but it will be very controversial. When her conservative father gets his hands on the manuscript, it sets off a firestorm with devastating consequences. Afzal is aghast – he thinks she’s written blasphemy. When Mahwish sides with their father, the sisters have a classic slanging match, tearing the family apart.
I really liked the simple staging – placing seating groups at points around the stage – table & chairs for restaurant – bar with stools for family kitchen – sofa for Zarina & Eli’s apartment – park bench
“The Who and the What” runs through July 12th at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. Performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3:00; with matinees on select Wednesdays and Saturdays. Running time is just over 2 hours with an intermission. Tickets range from $15-$40. Valet parking is available. Free parking is available in the Lincoln Garage (formerly Children’s Memorial Garage), two blocks south on Lincoln. FYI (773) 871-3000, firstname.lastname@example.org or www.victorygardens.org.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “The Who and the What”.