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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 15, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 37
ArtsWest launches 2017-2018 season with The Who & the What
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ArtsWest launches 2017-2018 season with The Who & the What

by Paul Torres - SGN A&E Writer

THE WHO & THE WHAT
ARTSWEST
Through October 1


The Who & the What is an engaging play with fine acting and some humorous and touching moments. However, if the point of ArtsWest 's The Who & the What, its first production of the 2017-2018 season, is to stir up provocative ideas and then connect us with profound revelations, then this production comes up just a bit short.

Artistic Director Mathew Wright notes that the theme to this season's six production, titled 'I Am,' concerns identity and the journey we take to discover this. It's a noble task and ArtsWest does have the talent to meet this task.

(Writer Ayad Akhtar's other work Disgraced, which won the Pulitzer Prize, would fit this season's 'I Am' theme and it might have been an ideal choice for this season's lead production. However, Disgraced comes with the baggage as being one of the most heavily produced plays in recent years and was also a recent divisive production at Seattle Rep. That production, I found challenging and not quite meeting the sum of its own lofty parts, but in it was that glimmer of fine writing from a renowned playwright and excellence in broaching its own themes of religion and identity.)

In ArtsWest's production of The Who & the What, Akhtar's story is of writer Zarina, an outstanding Monika Jolly, seeking her own identity by exposing gender inconsistencies within Islam. She is suffering from severe writer's block and the death of her beloved mother still haunts her. She spends hours at the library pining away deep in thought staring out a window. It's pretty fascinating stuff, but this story needs more room to breathe. It feels constrained like a too-well edited essay leaving out its most thrilling details.

Director Samip Raval maintains the even-keeled momentum with its themes of the challenges of family (an American-Pakistani family in Atlanta) and religion (Islam). The play only hints at some of Zarina's controversial writings about Prophet Muhammad and his more human tendencies and the consequences of her words once her book, entitled The Who & the What, is published. Only the pained expressions of her father, compellingly played by Abhijeet Rane, reveal just how controversial her writing is. He contemplates the potential 'useless existence' of his daughter's life. He suffers the shame of life altering personal consequences as a result of her book. In this play, he becomes the disgraced one.

Haley Alaji portrays her Zarina's sassy sister Mahwish with her own cocktail hour like dramas and Andre Nelson effectively plays her convert husband Eli, the bland 'nice-guy' to Zarina's woman on a quest. Their great acting satisfyingly fleshes out this story of the dynamics of the family in moral peril.

The Who & the What unveils a unique story from one unique family in America and this is the reason to see this production. Somewhere deep within this story, there is that 'I Am' moment, and this play is good enough for you to discover it.

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