Tom Vigo on Food and Fadwa at New York Theatre Workshop
By Tom Vigo7 June 2012
alfway through the first act of Lameece Isaaq & Jacob Kader’s new play Food and Fadwa, something exciting happens: with the six extended family members gathered around a dining table for a communal meal, two Palestinian men explain the country’s political situation by using only bits of food. Hummus, rice, and shreds of napkin are spread on the table, designating zones A, B, and C. Chicken is placed in the middle of all this, acting as the "undetermined zone." The salad is the Israeli settlements, and, sprinkled over everything, the numerous checkpoints are designated by salt. One of these men, Emir (brilliantly played by Arian Moayed,) has recently learned that his passport, in this case a fork, will not be renewed. You don’t need a fork, he explains, to eat hummus or rice; your hands will suffice for that. However, with the chicken, things are different – "we used to eat chicken with our hands," he says, "but now they say we need a fork."
This moment is when the themes of the play come together most successfully, as family, food, and politics all intertwine in a brilliant set piece. The other moments in which something near this kind of fusion takes place all center around Fadwa Faranesh (played by one of the authors, Lameece Isaaq,) and her imaginary, Food Network-style cooking show, "Food and Fadwa." As Fadwa goes through her daily life caring for her increasingly ill father and dreaming of the man she loves, now a successful chef in America, this show is her means of escape. Her explanations of proper parsley-chopping technique and Tabouleh preparation become strangely engrossing experiences, and we come to know her in the private world of her television show, much as we feel we know Ina Garten after a few episodes of Barefoot Contessa.
Unfortunately, much of the rest of the play doesn’t use nearly as subtle of a hand – after the first "episode" of Food and Fadwa, the introduction of the remaining characters plays out like a dramatized version of Sparknotes, with characters exclaiming things like "He runs the best restaurant in New York!" or "Her cookbook is a best-seller!" or "I can’t believe I’m looking at my cousin right now!" As the plot becomes increasingly like a soap opera, I kept hoping for more time with Fadwa and her cooking show; these episodes are seemingly when the playwrights felt comfortable enough to let the actions speak for themselves and let us connect the dots. Perhaps they should have taken the advice of their heroine more to heart – as Fadwa tells us about a traditional recipe, she tells us "it does not need adornments or updating. It is authentic and true to the culture from which it comes." When this play is authentic and true, like Fadwa’s Tabouleh, it is something to savor.
Photo Credits: Joan Marcus
Writing Credits: Tom is a writer, musician, orchestrator and arranger currently residing in NYC. He works frequently in the theatre and concert world as a music director, accompanist and conductor. Born and raised in New York, Tom has studied in the United States as well as Paris, France and holds degrees in both musical theory and composition.
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