Thursday, January 16, 2020

Bay Area premiere of Heather Raffo's 'Noura'

From left: Yazen (Valentino Herrera), Tareq (Mattico David), Noura (Denmo Ibrahim), Maryam (Maya Nazzal) and Rafa'a (Abraham Makany) sit down for their Christmas dinner.

The title character in Heather Raffo’s “Noura,” being given its Bay Area premiere by the Marin Theatre Company, is an Iraqi Christian who left the violence in her home country and has been in New York City for eight years.

It’s Christmas Eve. Noura (Denmo Ibrahim); Tareq (Mattico David), her husband of 20 years; and Yazen (Valentino Herrera), their grade school-age son; are celebrating the arrival of their American passports and preparing for a traditional Iraqi Christmas dinner.

When they were in Mosul, Noura was an architect and Tareq was a surgeon. Once in the United States, they could no longer practice their professions. Instead, Noura teaches in an inner city middle school, and Tareq works in a hospital emergency room. He had a job in a Subway shop when they first arrived.

At the dinner, they’re joined by Rafa’a (Abraham Makany), a Muslim who has been their friend ever since their days in Iraq.

The other guest is Maryam (Maya Nazzal). Noura and Tareq haven’t met her, but they have supported her ever since she was an orphan at a convent in Iraq, through college in the United States and now as she’s about to start a career in thermodynamics.

Tareq and Noura in a happier moment.
Her arrival sets off some unexpected reactions, especially from Tareq, leading to a major emotional crisis for him and Noura.

Throughout the play, Noura is haunted by memories of Iraq, especially the violence and the loss of friends and family wrought by ISIS. She continues to try to recover from those losses.

Thus she symbolizes the difficulties that many Iraqis and other people face after escaping from horrible circumstances. Rafa’a suggests that she’s suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

As the play reaches its ambiguous conclusion, the revelations pile up in almost melodramatic fashion.

At times the threads of Raffo’s plot are hard to follow, a problem heightened by the difficulty of understanding some of the accents.

Nevertheless, this production directed by Kate Bergstrom, in association with Golden Thread Productions, benefits from solid performances by all five cast members.

The barebones set, featuring a Christmas tree, dining table and little else, is by Adam Rigg with lighting by Kate Boyd. The costumes are by Anna Oliver with sound by Nihan Yesil.

Running about an hour and 40 minutes with no intermission, “Noura” will continue through Feb. 9 at Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley.

For tickets and information, call (415) 388-5208 or visit

Photos by Kevin Berne