“Holy Land” has an Uneven Landscape.

April 25, 2014


Bombs, killers, and soldiers. A war torn country is certainly no fun place to live. The horror of those living in such places is the setting for Mohamed Kacimi’s drama, Holy Land. How can a family survive these tumultuous conditions? Kacimi’s work has potential to shed light on this unimaginably tenuous situation, but in its current state, it is too disjointed and confusing to allow us to fully enter this world.


The play opens with an ethnic family, struggling to survive the soldiers, who barge in at any moment without warning, and the hell of war. Imen, a young woman, is quick with her tongue and it seems to get her into trouble. She is burst in upon by an enemy soldier. We quickly find out that Imen has a cat, named Jesus, for who she cares a lot about. The father, Yad, returns home and is obviously in a panic and needs alcohol to calm his nerves. He is the most developed and defined character, but he seems a little farcical at times.The soldier, Ian, barges in again and has a breakdown of some sort based on what he sees on television. Then, strangely, Amin, the brother bursts Ian and drops the T.V out the window and kills a soldier. He obviously believes in his religious doctrine that promises him that he’ll go to heaven for his murder. Then, in a bizarre moment, he rapes his sister and is caught by the father who kills him. If the plot seems a little ambiguous, it is because we are not exactly sure what is happening at every turn in the play.


As I mentioned above, Kacimi’s work is too disjointed and hap-hazard feeling to have the intended impact that I think he is anticipating. It’s a little all over the place and the characters seem to be acting in a vacuum. None of them seem to be in the same world. The language is very redundant and more poetic than dramatic. This makes it hard for the actors to have dramatic tension and action to play with. Yad, played by Jojo Gonzalez, is the most interesting to watch. His need for escape, if only a mental one, is palpable. Although, he has great comic timing his energy can be a little too frenetic and make him seem over-the-top. Still, he is by far, the most interesting to watch. The actors do their best to fix the disjointedness, but they can only cover up so much.


Kacimi’s relationships are not well-defined. In the program, it tells us that Imen and Aminare not related. Yet, this production makes it seem like they are, which adds a whole other dimension to the rape scene. I believe the inconsistent use of pronouns adds to our confusion. I heard audience member’s whisper their uncertainty and dismay at certain moments. I hope Kacimi will continue to work on Holy Land. It is needed in today’s problematic war happy world. There is real potential here, but it needs to be polished up and clarified in order to deliver the full impact of its message.

Holy Land is presented by 3rd Kulture Kids and The Sublet Series at HERE Arts Center, 145 6th Ave. Playing now through May 10, 2014. http://www.here.org


Casa Valentina Brings Down the House!

April 24, 2014

How far would you go to gain acceptance? Is the social advancement of one minority at the expense of another minority group just? These questions permeate Harvey Fierstein’s newest work, Casa Valentina produced by Manhattan Theatre Club. The result is a hilarious, yet deeply human evening of theater.

Picture this; a resort in the Catskills in 1962 where transvestite men can go and let their hair down (pun intended) The host of the inn, George and his wife Rita open their doors and hearts to these misunderstood men. George, a transvestite who doubles as Valentina, is married to Rita with full disclosure of his proclivity to dress in woman’s clothing. The dynamic couple are hosting their usual coffee clutch of secretive men in a usual weekend get-together. However, this weekend, Charlotte, a leader in the transvestite community with a ground-breaking society, is among them. Charlotte wants the “girls” to sign up and go public with their double lives. There are qualms with Charlotte’s request, but the most interesting is that by signing up, they would state that they are not homosexuals and do not condone the “repulsive” behavior of homosexuals. This indignation opens Pandora’s box and the men start to become unglued as the difference between black and white become blurred.

The cast is stellar. Mare Winningham, plays Rita with comedy and heart. She portrays Rita’s unique marriage well and pitches her deeply-hidden uneasiness with conviction. Patrick Page plays George/Valentina with great sincerity and passion. His longing for normalcy is tangible and something we can all relate to. However, it is Tom McGowan who steals the show. His flamboyance and impeccable comic-timing are some of the best Broadway has to offer. He is as poignant, as he is funny which makes him a delight to watch. When he does get serious, it is remarkably honest. His energy fills the room. He’s a real show-stopper!

Like all masterpieces the audience is taken on a great roller-coaster of a ride. Fierstein’s comedy is undeniable, yet it never overshadows the dramatic question that this play asks. When in the face of adversity, do we all stand together or do we throw each other under the bus for our own gain? Whatever you decide, the struggle of these men in 1962 is still something we relate to in 2014. Go see this show. It’s message is important and the issues it addresses are timeless. Oh yea, its hysterical too! Casa Valentina brings down the house!

Casa Valentina plays at the SAMUEL J. FRIEDMAN THEATRE 261 West 47th Street btwn Broadway & 8th Ave. http://www.casavalentina.com