Palestinian Foodie Charms ‘Fadwa’; Medieval Play’: Review

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Photographer: Joan Marcus/Richard Kornberg & Associates via Bloomberg

The cast of "Food and Fadwa." The show is a co-production of New York Theatre Workshop and Noor Theatre, its company in residence, a newcomer devoted o plays by artists from the Middle East.

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Photographer: Joan Marcus/Richard Kornberg & Associates via Bloomberg

The cast of "Food and Fadwa." The show is a co-production of New York Theatre Workshop and Noor Theatre, its company in residence, a newcomer devoted o plays by artists from the Middle East. Close

The cast of "Food and Fadwa." The show is a co-production of New York Theatre Workshop and Noor Theatre, its company... Read More

Photographer: Joan Marcus/Richard Kornberg & Associates via Bloomberg

Lameece Issaq in "Food and Fadwa." The play is a warm-hearted dramedy in which "Arab Idol" and the Food Network figure almost as prominently as the tribulations of the Palestinian people. Close

Lameece Issaq in "Food and Fadwa." The play is a warm-hearted dramedy in which "Arab Idol" and the Food Network... Read More

Photographer: Joan Marcus/Richard Kornberg & Associates via Bloomberg

The cast of "Food and Fadwa." The play is by Lameece Issaq and Jacob Kader and directed by Shana Gold. Close

The cast of "Food and Fadwa." The play is by Lameece Issaq and Jacob Kader and directed by Shana Gold.

Photographer: Joan Marcus/Richard Kornberg & Associates via Bloomberg

Lameece Issaq and Arian Moayed in "Food and Fadwa." The new drama about a Palestinian family runs through June 24. Close

Lameece Issaq and Arian Moayed in "Food and Fadwa." The new drama about a Palestinian family runs through June 24.

Photographer: Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

Josh Hamilton plays one of two errant knights in "Medieval Play." The new comedy, written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, is running at the off-Broadway Signature Theatre. Close

Josh Hamilton plays one of two errant knights in "Medieval Play." The new comedy, written and directed by Kenneth... Read More

Photographer: Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

Halley Feiffer and John Pankow in "Medieval Play" by Kenneth Lonergan. The play is a parody of life in 14th-century France and England. Close

Halley Feiffer and John Pankow in "Medieval Play" by Kenneth Lonergan. The play is a parody of life in 14th-century France and England.

Photographer: Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

The cast of "Medieval Play," at the off-Broadway Signature Theatre. The new comedy, written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan, runs through June 24. Close

The cast of "Medieval Play," at the off-Broadway Signature Theatre. The new comedy, written and directed by Kenneth... Read More

Photographer: Joan Marcus/Boneau/Bryan-Brown via Bloomberg

C.J. Wilson, Kevin Geer and John Pankow in Kenneth Lonergan's new comedy, "Medieval Play." The play opened June 7 at the Signature Theatre in New York. Close

C.J. Wilson, Kevin Geer and John Pankow in Kenneth Lonergan's new comedy, "Medieval Play." The play opened June 7 at... Read More

Ingrained images of the West Bank from the nightly news may be shattered by “Food and Fadwa,” a warm-hearted dramedy in which “Arab Idol” and the Food Network figure almost as prominently as the tribulations of the Palestinian people.

When we meet Fadwa, she’s mashing baked eggplant and playing to a TV audience that exists only in her head.

“Hello, and welcome to another episode of ’Food and Fadwa,”’ she says brightly as she prepares baba ghanoush.

The West Bank home is modern, spacious and comfortably appointed; a cross adorns a living room wall.

Fadwa exudes sensual pleasure and no little pride in her cooking. They’re especially evident today as she prepares the feast for her younger sister Dalal’s wedding. Cooking might as well be a competitive sport in her culture.

“No food, no respect. Bad food, bad reputation,” she says. It’s practically a rebuke.

Dalal’s fiance, Emir, works in Jerusalem and so must pass through several security checkpoints every working day.

His brother, Youssif, is pledged to Fadwa but he’s been in New York seeking his fortune. When he arrives, the joyful scene is overshadowed by the appearance of his companion, Hayat.

Cultural Traitor

She’s a longtime rival of Fadwa’s who has found fame as the chef-owner of the trendy New York restaurant where Youssif works. They’ve become lovers. That’s bad enough news for Fadwa; nearly worse is Hayat’s reputation for fusion cooking. She’s a traitor to both her sex and her culture.

All this -- the rivalries, family chatter, cooking -- comes to a halt when sirens are heard and a curfew is instated. From 24 hours it expands to days and then weeks, without explanation, as food and medical supplies dwindle, electricity is shut off and Emir goes missing.

“Food and Fadwa” finds its power incrementally and, while there is little question that the Israelis are the heavies, the play is suffused more with sorrow than hate.

Credit this to director Shana Gold, who plays against the darkening story by finding every element of humor and pathos, and the script, developed by Lameece Issaq and Jacob Kader.

Enormous Charm

Issaq, lithe and animated, plays Fadwa with enormous charm and sensitivity. That’s true for the entire cast, which includes Laith Nakli as a father fading into dementia; Arian Moayed as the spirited Emir and Heather Raffo as the cluelessly insufferable Hayat.

The show is a co-production of New York Theatre Workshop and Noor Theatre, its company in residence, a newcomer devoted to plays by artists from the Middle East. It will be interesting to see how inclusive that notion proves to be.

Through June 24 at 79 E. 4th St. Information: +1-212-279- 4200; http://wwww.nytw.org. Rating: ****

‘Medieval Play’

Medieval Play,” at the Signature, is “Spamalot” without the songs, but nearly as many laughs.

Kenneth Lonergan, best known for contemporary films (“You Can Count on Me” and plays (“This Is Our Youth”) goes back to 14th-century France and Italy, where two hapless knights alternate between crude scatological comedy and satirical disquisitions on politics, etiquette, sex and the inconsistent pleasures of raping, pillaging and plundering.

They’re played by Josh Hamilton and Tate Donovan, as funny and in-sync as any comic pairing this side of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. The rest of the terrific cast play multiple roles including cardinals, harlots and, in one scene “All Christendom.”

This is the most ambitious show yet in the new Signature complex. Walt Spangler’s whimsical pop-up scenery adds to the fun. Lonergan’s writing reminded me of Thomas Berger’s great parody, “Arthur Rex.”

“Medieval Play” is frequently hilarious and in one divinely risque scene, sexy (thanks to Hamilton and the extremely game Halley Feiffer).

It’s also wildly overlong, evidence of why most playwrights probably shouldn’t direct their own work.

Through June 24 at 480 W. 42nd St. Information: +1-244- 7529; http://www.signaturetheatre.org. Rating: ***


What the Stars Mean:
****        Do Not Miss
***         Excellent
**          Good
*           So-So
(No stars)  Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is the chief U.S. drama critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include movies and New York Weekend.

To contact the writer of this column: Jeremy Gerard in New York at jgerard2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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