Caravan, Still Point Theater Collective, Rhinoceros Theater Festival, at Curious Theatre Branch. The word “Palestinian” probably brings to mind troubling images from the Middle East, not a community of women on Chicago’s southwest side gossiping over coffee. But that’s what makes Chicago poet Melysha Sargis Meraee’s play revelatory. For 90 minutes she allows us into the everyday lives of six Arab-American women. The issues are mundane but still potentially explosive: at the center of the play is a whispered accusation of adultery. Structured as a series of highly digressive conversations, Meraee’s script accentuates the ordinariness of her story.
Director Jenny Magnus shows considerable sensitivity to the material. In her production small gestures–the way a character lights a cigarette or walks up some steps–speak volumes, a quality enhanced by the strong, subtle ensemble. Annalise Raziq in particular shows remarkable restraint as the most comical character, a woman so desperate for gossip to trade she steals and repeats her friends’ stories.
But there’s a downside to Meraee’s unembellished close-up. Much of the play feels more like a transcript than a theatrical work–some judicious editing would have increased the tale’s dramatic power. As it is, most of the conflicts are resolved about two-thirds of the way through by a major confrontation between the gossipers and the friend being gossiped about.