Saturday, June 13, 2015

Paloma by Anne Garcia-Romero


Ethan Rains, Caro Zeller

By Joe Straw

Ghosts are not the visions you see, walking through doors and up staircases; they are the mental images that haunt your every waking moment, the memory of a smile, a feathery pulse of air slipping by your ear, the fragrant scent of a body, the noise of the last words spoken, the lasting images of screaming, ‘sblood on a train, and the recalcitrant history of an event never to be forgotten.   – Narrator

Paloma is a story of images – a narration of good and evil – wound tightly around a not so intense love story – an exordium of love – of love that never was – a distorted figment of a lover’s imagination – and a poetic love of two drawn together by something that could never be – a Catholic woman and a Muslim man.

Surrena Saffari

And here you sit listening to the original and pleasant music of Guitarist: Surenna Saffari, an image, a spotlight on quiet chords that fill the empty spaces of the theatre, finding their way, with no direction but bouncing to their lovingly end destination.

Ibrahim Ahmed (Ethan Rains) casually lying down with a book in hand, “The Ring of the Dove” by Tawa al-Hamámah “El Collar del al Paloma”*, as though he were in a park, listening to his lawyer, Jared Rabinowitz (Jesse Einstein) speak about the not too distant past. Ibrahim is in a lot of trouble and he needs a lawyer, this lawyer.  “Why” – is the first question?

(*“The Ring of the Dove” was written around 1022 by Ibn Hazm, a devout Muslim who wrote on the themes of love, chastity, and restraint.)

Love to fruition – an act that is impossible for these two misguided friends – their love stands at the base of a cliff attempting to reach for the peak.  And in this particular case between a chaste Muslim man and a not so chaste Catholic woman – their love might as well have started at the base of Mount Everest.

The Los Angeles Theatre Center presents the West Coast Premiere of Paloma by Anne Garcia-Romero and directed by Alan Freeman through June 21st, 2015.

Paloma, wonderfully written by Anne Garcia-Romero and is brilliantly executed by Alan Freeman, the director.  Told from a survivor’s perspective this is a story - a despairing reflection - of one who can love but remains chaste because his religion is an unyielding barrier.  And from that chaste perspective, it is at times a deeply disturbing story.

Paloma, the play, is not linear in form.  The action moves from the present to the past.  That reflection is used to define the characters, and the relationships to the end. And from the beginning the audience is presented with little information. We are privy to relationships only when they are given in tiny increments, and some so far in the play, that we are entreated to a final sense of acknowledgement, an enigmatical tranquility, which is indeed poetically painful and tragic.

The setting of the play takes place from 2003 to 2005 in New York City and in various cities in Spain.  Ibrahim Ahmed is speaking with Jared Rabinowitz, his lawyer and they appear to be in the park as he is prostrate on the ground.

Jesse Einstein, Ethan Rains

“Abe,” who prefers to be called Ibrahim, does not want to change his name while he is on the witness stand.  But Rabinowitz suggests this is best given the current nature of Americans’ feelings toward Muslims.

Rabinowitz wants all the information, of Abe and Paloma’s (Caro Zeller) relationship, from the beginning to the end.  

So, the past is revisited in the NYU library where Ibrahim Ahmed and Paloma Flores are studying from “The Ring of the Dove” and the rules on how to love. Abe is studying for his MA in Islamic Studies while Paloma is studying for her MA in World History, but only one will allow a physical relationship. 

They note that Paloma means dove.

“Is that a come on?” – Paloma
Breaking in from time to time Rabinowitz wants to know if Abe told his parents about their relationship.

“No.” – Ibrahim

Meanwhile Paloma wants to know if Abe is religious.  Abe tells her “Yes” and he prays five times a day. (Note: we never see him pray.)

“You’re like a monk...don’t drink? or f*ck?” – Paloma

“No.” - Ibrahim

It is Abe’s recollection that they both decide that Spain would be a good place to go, since it’s cheap, for their study of Islam and world history, and to consummate their love.

Meanwhile Rabinowitz offers another theory – that Paloma, when left alone in the hotel, got on the train, and that’s when the events unfolded.

“Your mother and I know.  God will punish you.” – Ibrahim’s father.

But no matter what Rabinowitz tries, visiting Mosques, trying to talk to the parents, or to church leaders, no one will testify on Ibrahim’s behalf.

Ethan Rains does a marvelous job as Ibrahim Ahmed.  Rains has a disquieting peculiarity in his character, a way about him that is completely realistic and natural on stage. But what is it about the character that appears to be so emotionally unattached after the events in Madrid? The casual lying around, in a hoodie, in the opening moments of the plays says nothing of the preceding events.   It is somewhat curious and odd. He needs to bring in the history of the Madrid bombings as well as provide a representational element, an injury, and/or her necklace, however slight or grand. Ibrahim seems to leave that all behind him, a part of his life that is now done. Rains does an impressive job showing emotions on the witness stand (much to his detriment) but presents unyielding rigidity in his emotional commitment to his true love. Still, Rains’ work is quite arresting. 

Caro Zeller is charming as Paloma, and yet one feels her frustration.  Zeller has a powerful voice and inhabits the character with aplomb. She is a stunning actress that gives a lot of life to the character. Paloma, with her urbane playfulness, is emotional when trying to have her way and getting her lover into bed proves to be her unconquerable obstinacy.  

Jesse Einstein brings a substantial life to Jared Ravinowitz, the attorney who will stop at nothing to give his client a favorable outcome. He has a strong presence on stage and is specific in action and in completing his objective. That said, more needs to be made to define the relationship between him and his client, his friend, for which he provides his service gratis. 

Alan Freeman, the director, does an incredible job with this production. The actors move with precision moving in and out of a moment, going back and forth in time.  

But the opening was slightly frustrating because of Ibrahim’s prone position.

“Got any smokes?” – Ibrahim

One is at a complete loss about the purpose of this moment, especially after Madrid, the loss of a true love, and a civil suit that could destroy his life.  Also, it says little about the relationship between the two and seems attorney/client casual. Also, the scene presented itself like a criminal in a holding cell speaking to his attorney. We don’t get the sense of the place in this scene.  

Also, if the story is from Ibrahim’s perspective, then the scene of Paloma alone in the hotel room must be a figment of someone’s imagination. It is not visibly connected on stage.  The note in the book to Ibrahim, did not play out adequately later in the play.  

One more thing, I loved the bar scene.   

For Anne Garcia-Romero, the writer, this is a very impressive work of art. One is caught off guard by its brilliance, the diverse nature of the characters, and the message it conveys. It is also a tenebrous subject matter of how religion plays a role in diminishing the love of a fully committed couple.  The play also offers a different perspective of the Madrid bombings that killed 192 people - killed for reasons that have never been satisfactorily made clear. The play is beautiful in intention and it also reminds us of the iniquitous nature of the unpleasantness around the world.

Ann Sheffield did an incredible job with the Set Design; a beautiful multi-level set that gave us the wonderful elements of humanity. Megan Hill was the Assistant Set Designer.

Trevor Norton, Lighting Design, presents us with beautiful images and lights that appeared from every direction giving us a sense of place.

Laura Wong, the Costume Designer, presented the actors in the correct time. Her work was marvelous.

Other members of this fabulous crew are as follows:

Raul Staggs – Casting Director
Matt Sweeney – Special Effects Design
Willie Mae Michiels – Stage Manager

Run! Run! And take a friend, better yet a Unitarian Universalist, someone that embraces all religions.  

Reservations:  213-489-0994

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