Precious Stones, Silk Road Theatre Project, at the Chicago Cultural Center. Jamil Khoury’s ambitious but flawed new play (Silk Road’s inaugural production) covers a whole season’s worth of social issues. But since most pertain to the perennially troubled area of Arab-Jewish relations, Khoury can perhaps be forgiven for overstating his characters’ views. It’s 1989, and Andrea (Nicole Pitman), the lesbian daughter of Holocaust survivors, is distressed by the intifada in Israel. She reaches out to Palestinian-born Leila (Roxane Assaf), a wealthy Arab activist, hoping to begin a discussion group for Arab and Jewish women. When she discovers that Leila’s marriage is a mutual cover for Leila and her gay husband, Samir, Andrea acts on her attraction, and the two fall in love.
Khoury’s deliberate mirroring of scenes becomes predictable and repetitive: Andrea’s argument with her pro-Israel boss Esther is followed by a scene in which Leila’s cousin, whose husband was shot by an Israeli sniper, expresses her dismay that Leila would ever consider dialogue with Jews. The two actors play all the roles (Assaf does more to distinguish them than Pitman), and the characters all meet at a disastrous cocktail party thrown by Leila and Samir.
Pitman and Assaf deserve credit for their yeomen’s efforts given the piece’s often strained polemics. Michael Najjar’s direction is unfocused, and the long slide shows of the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that bookend the play only detract from the drama.