Review ‘ Noura’ at Marin Theatre Company (*****)

by Charles Kruger

Family and friends, Iraqui refugees from I.S.I.S. living in the United States, gather for an intense Christmas Dinner in the Bay area premiere of Heather Raffo’s “Noura.” From L to R: Valentino Herrera as Yazen/Alex; Mattico David as Tareq/Tim; Denmo Ibrahim as Noura/Nora; Maya Nazzal as Maryam; and Abraham Makany as Afa’a. Photo Credit: Kevin Berne.
Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.

To begin with, Heather Raffo’s “Noura” is an extraordinary play in every respect, and it is given an extraordinary production at Marin Theatre Company. To watch it is to observe an avalanche of excellence, from the dazzling ensemble cast to the outstanding design work of Adam Rigg (sets), Anna Oliver (costumes), Kate Boyd (lighting) and Nihan Yesil (sound), as well as the carefully calibrated direction of Kate Bergstrom.

Noura ((Denmo Ibrahim), after a tragic past, appears to be living a wonderful life. She and her husband Tareq (Mattico David) came to the United States some years ago, as war refugees from the city of Mosul, Iraq from which many Christians had to flee after the Islamic State took control in 2014. Today, they have a beautiful modern home in New York City. Her husband, a highly trained surgeon, who for years has had to work menial jobs, has finally passed his medical boards and is now making a living as a physician. Noura, a trained architect, does not work outside their home, but she is happily engaged with creative projects nonetheless. Their young son, Alex, is a well-adjusted American boy. But something is rotten in the state of New York.

For all this happiness, Noura is haunted by her losses, by history, by the difficulties of balancing her conflicting roles as mother, wife, professional, and refugee. It is Christmas Eve, and she is coping with her distress by standing out alone in the snow, sneaking cigarettes. Tomorrow, she expects a visit from an Iraqi orphan whom she has sponsored for years and brought to America, sight unseen, and she is nervous and excited about the meeting. Her devastating past is about to crash headlong into her precarious present and she senses that she is approaching a life crisis.

Raffo took, as her model and inspiration for this play, Ibsen’s classic “A Doll’s House,” which tells of the awakening of Nora, also upon a Christmas Eve, when her precarious happiness is challenged by revelations from the past that bring new insights to the present. Audiences familiar with Ibsen’s play will easily recognize parallels in much of the plotting of “Noura,” but the new play is by no means a slavish imitation or a mere variation. The primary links are the persistence of the themes and challenges which are faced by contemporary women. These are universal themes and challenges, brought into vivid relief by the extremities of Noura’s refugee status.

Although the political and historical content is fascinating and well managed, the play is essentially a family drama. The five actors of this ensemble are as deeply engaged with one another as could possibly be asked from any group of actors, and the result is an emotional rollercoaster of laughter and tears, with more than enough surprises to keep the audience full of curiosity, ready to follow the feelings wherever they may lead.

Along the way, audiences can learn many specifics about Iraqui history and the plight of refugees, but, most of all, they will recognize our common humanity with this highly likable group of family and friends, whose efforts to live fully under difficult conditions can inspire us all.

Playwright Heather Raffo is a major talent: actress, opera librettist, playwright, solo performer, public intellectual, political analyst, and passionate citizen.

Don’t miss this opportunity to meet her work. It’ll be good for you.

“Noura” continues at Marin Theatre Company through February 2, 2020. For further information, click here.


Rating: ***** (For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)

Please Read This (click here)


`“Noura” by Heather Raffo. Bay Area Premiere produced by Marin Theatre Company and Golden Thread Productions. Director: Kate Bergstrom. Assistant Director: Ahmed Ashour. Scenic Designer: Adam Rigg. Costume Designer: Anna Oliver. Lighting Designer: Kate Boyd. Assistant Lighting Designer: Danny Osburn. Sound Designer: Nihan Yesil. Dramaturg: Nakissa Etemad. Cultural Consultant: Torange Yeghiazarian. Dialect Coach: Lynne Soffer. Production Assistant: Brigid Ridge.

Cast: Noura/Nora: Denmo Ibrahim. Tareq/Tim: Mattico David. Rafa’a: Abraham Makeny. Maryam: Maya Nazzal. Yazen/Alex: Valentino Herrera. 

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