FIRST–Head to the Central Square Theater in Central Square Cambridge this weekend and get closer to the Middle East.
SECOND–Buy a ticket to PARADISE –and you will find it. This two-act play by Laura Maria Censabella and presented by Underground Railway Theater is about a young muslim-American teenager from the Bronx with a gift for science who brings her high octane enthusiasm to a class on neuroscience, where her brilliant teacher, disgraced by an incident in his past, can now only find a job teaching HS science. These performances are off the charts electric and convincing. Caitlin Nasema Cassidy plays the intellectually rambunctious Yasmeen al-Hamadi who blows into class like a hurricane and nearly knocks over the professor, Dr. Guy Royston played with offbeat aplomb and sly humor by the versatile Barlow Adamson. You will find them each, at different times, frustrating and endearing.
This is a set up that could easily have cliched itself into the pedantic, the self-righteous, the scandalous, the precious, the corny. Instead, these two characters whip up an intensely complex relationship on many levels, that begins after Yasmeen convinces Dr. Royston to mentor her through a project wherein they investigate the neuroscience of adolescents falling in love. Trust me. You will not see where this is going. Director Shana Gozansky keeps things moving to pace long stretches of dialogue while the audience watches on three sides.
She is devout; he is disgraced. She is serious and optimistic; he is cool and ambitious. They both love science, while he loves Eric Clapton and she sings verses from the Koran that almost made me weep. Teacher and student continually flip roles as they navigate the competitiveness of academe, the clash of cultures, the demands of scientific inquiry, her inexperience and faith a constant challenge to his world-weary agnosticism. Act I sets up the problem and Act II solves it as they challenge each other toward a movable truth that is sublimely satisfying. One of the smartest plays I’ve scene in awhile. PARADISE ONLY THROUGH Sunday 5/7!
THIRD— Grab a bite to eat nearby at one of MANY hot new and classic restaurants i.e. the talked about and bustling LITTLE DONKEY with its wildly inventive small plate menu and cool cocktails; or right next door to the theater check out the brand new La Fabrica featuring Spanish Carribean cuisine, a long bar up front, live music, indoor and patio dining, and soon to open night club! And of course there’s the iconic THE MIDDLE EAST with its eponymous cuisine and live music of the alternative, rock, indie variety. And so many more…just stroll.
FOURTH–Buy a ticket to HOMEBODY starring Underground Railway Artistic Director Debra Wise in a bravura one- woman show directed by Nora Artistic Director Lee Mikeska Gardner. The play is the 1997 precurser to Tony Kushner’s 2001’s post 9/11 HOMEBODY/KABUL . This compact solo show unpacks a big world. Wise plays a deeply curious, unsatisfyingly married, and highly voluble British woman who explores the world from her armchair by way of books. This evening The Homebody sits in her comfy high-backed chair near a solitary lamp, amid piles of old tomes, and thrills us with her delight in the exotic, labyrinthine history of Afghanistan and the city of Kabul, a history as byzantine as her syntax. Wise’s comfort with this elaborate language is hilarious and mesmerizing. She climbs a mountain of verbiage, lovely, lyrical and strange, every tangent and rhetorical flourish a portal to hidden landscapes external and internal.
As such The Homebody is more than equipped to appreciate the intricacies, convolutions, and entanglements of a country layered with centuries of tumult, suffering, and mystery. As she sifts through the guide book sleuthing and savoring the remnants of a mysterious past, we understand her quest to be personal, propelled by her own malaise, to understand something familiar in the strange and leap past the borders of her stuffy world– but not like her ancestors, the British empire builder/consumers of old. This Homebody is a genuine seeker, inquisitive rather than acquisitive– hoping to find her way home.
Restless, she jumps up to pass out exotic hats to the audience for a party she’s planning, inviting us to join her as she muses on their origins, beauty, and elaborate ornamentation, but subtly unsettled by the secrets hidden beneath their adornments. Only 70 minutes long, the play will leave you feeling like you’ve been away much longer; you will be happy to find upon venturing out, there’s plenty of time left to explore something sweet and spicy in the Square…