June 9 (Bloomberg) -- 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.
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.
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,” 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.)
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