A classic romantic contains a number of recognizable characters: the nerdy, only moderately attractive best friend, the love-struck or recently heart-broken ingenue, the classically handsome but probably misunderstood man; of course, all of these characters, traditionally, are white. Yasmina’s Necklace takes the Owen Stage at the Goodman Theatre (following a successful run at the 16th Street Theater in Berwyn) and attempts to redefine these stereotypes, using the classic formula with which we are so familiar but featuring two Muslim characters in the leading roles.
The refreshing approach is one that I hope all audiences can appreciate--it’s sadly uncommon to see refugee stories told in such a way (or perhaps told at all). As playwright Rohina Malik states in an article by New City, “rarely do we see stories in the media about normal Muslim families, interacting in the living room. This play takes people into their home.” Yet even as Yasmina’s Necklace offers up a new, much more political take on the classic romantic comedy, it does not fully manage to steer clear of tropes, and this diminishes some of the play’s profound effect.
We begin with male love interest Sam (Michael Perez) placating his parents by agreeing to meet Yasmina (Susaan Jamshidi), a potential new Iraqi bride. Sam has recently disappointed his parents in a multitude of ways--from eloping and later divorcing a non-Muslim woman to changing his name to fit into the corporate world, Sam’s decisions have troubled and disturbed his overly engaged mother and father. The only solution now, in their minds, is to set him up with a more suitable partner.
From here, we follow the standard romantic comedy formula: reluctant man and woman meet, misunderstood man and woman fight, and thrown together man and woman eventually demolish the wall between them and fall in love.
The identity struggles of our young couple complicate this model as Yasmina fights to overcome the scars of her experiences as a refugee, and Sam grapples with embracing his heritage, but the earnest moments are overpowered by the overly expected ones. Yasmina’s multiple monologues, for instance, dilute the effect of her final one, a confession to Sam that is fraught with grief and vulnerability. For all of their humorous moments, over the top characters Sara (Laura Crotte--Sam’s mother) and Musa (Ron Barkhordar--Yasmina’s father) constantly pull us back from reality to farce. And Sam’s depression is a topic frequently brought up but little explored.
Perhaps it’s a problem of trying to tackle too much. By taking on a complex topic such as identity, Malik ends up making broad strokes when more nuanced ones may have been more powerful. Yet perhaps more representation of these stories, be that on stage, on screen, on paper, etc., would allow playwrights like Malik to focus in on those that, as she puts it, “take us into their home.”
Review by Emily Schmidt
Yasmina's Necklace continues at Goodman Theatre through November 19. More info here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago's Review Round-Up.
Editor's Note: We previously miscredited the character of Musa to Mark Ulrich, who played the role at 16th Street. Ron Barkhordar plays the role at the Goodman Theatre. Thanks to Ann F. for pointing this out!