New York University Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) has once again pushed the boundaries for Arts in the region and this time by hosting the middle east premiere to Noura. The story revolves around Iraqi immigrants in New York. As Noura and her husband Tariq prepare to celebrate a traditional Christmas, she looks forward to welcoming a special guest – Maryam, a young Iraqi refugee. But the girl’s arrival creates unforeseen circumstances.
Award-winning playwright and performer Heather Raffo (Nine Parts of Desire) wrote the play and also stars as its main character Noura. The script is so flawless that it manages to add in humour without taking away from the emotional aspect its theme
The dialogue in Noura really stands out as characters discuss pre-marital pregnancy, christians and muslims in Iraq, the rise of ISIS and many other controversial themes. The life of a refugee is often misunderstood and these individuals can have a rather difficult time communicating their ideas and feelings to the community they live in. We spoke to Noura's director Joanna Settle after the premiere to get her thoughts on the writing and feedback she has received thus far.
Do you feel it’s the right time to launch a play like this one?
Sadly, I suspect it’s been the right time to do a play like this for several thousand years. I think human history is a combination of what over that ridge and I’ve got to get out of here. We are survivors and as an American I can say that the majority of the American population went over to start new.
What brought this show to the Middle East?
Bill Bragin (head of NYU Arts Center) and I have known each other for some time and he was the first person to program us. He came to a rehearsal and said it would resonate with audiences from the middle east region and so here we are.
What was the feedback from the world premiere in the US?
The show premiered at the Shakespeare Theatre at Washington DC which is a 15 minute walk from the White House. The reviews were strong – and people loved it for different reasons. Latino women in Kansas City said it reminded them of leaving their family and the political theme resonated with Iraqi women in DC. I'm interested to see what UAE has to say – there is a question about what performance and theatre are going to be in the UAE.
Noura touches on a lot of controversial subjects, how did that come about?
I think the play is dynamic, in the US it is probably dynamic for different reasons. We think refugees are poor people. Our conversation about immigration is so twisted and disappointing. But in Noura the husband is a surgeon, the wife is an architect, they have a nice apartment and are not hungry. So it plays a big part in how you see this Iraqi family. Because they both have jobs and make a good living yet their problems are unsolved. In the UAE and the Middle East everybody already knows that.
Do you feel that dialogue in the show is relatable because it is often the things that we think about but do not say it out in the open?
Yes, that is true. We are exploring privacy – Looking inside those private moments and the shows sneaks up on you.
Where are you touring after the UAE?
It's going to the Playwright Horizons in New York in November.
For more info on upcoming shows at NYUAD visit nyuad-artscenter.org