“Yasmina’s Necklace,” Rohina Malik’s living-room romance, seems a simple and familiar story at first blush: Yasmina (deftly played by Susaan Jamshidi) is an Iraqi-Muslim refugee recently moved to Chicago with her father Musa (Rom Barkhordar). Sam (Michael Perez) has very recently divorced his wife of three years. What could make for a more perfect couple? The plot struck me as almost campy at first but as the play vacillates between charmingly awkward visits between the couple’s families and the creative and secret memories and reflections of Yasmina as she paints and tells her story to Sam, a poignant undertone of identity begins to unwind.
The brilliance of Malik’s script is that it doesn’t shy away from complexity. Each of her principal characters has an intricate history and a myriad of reasons for doing what they do and each of those stories is shared with the audience. Malik is making a very strong statement: being Muslim is not one thing—being Muslim is many things.
The standout performance in this production is Laura Crotte as Sam’s mother, Sara, who interrupts every somber moment with a well-placed quip or the kind of striking remark that only mothers can make. The scene between Laura and Jamshidi was particularly moving as Sara told the story of her conversion to Islam. Her timing, charm and vivacity are not to be missed.
Under Ann Filmer’s direction, “Yasmina’s Necklace” is a warm, earnest production that’s unafraid to demand thought from its audience. Be sure to sit a few rows back to get the full effect of Joe Schermoly’s two-home set and give yourself time to experience the artwork incorporated in the world of the play; the paintings on Yasmina’s walls are the works of Ahmad Abdulrazzaq and a few are available for purchase in the lobby.
As the last revelation of life experience is shared between Yasmina and Sam, he repeats what their Imam (comedically and warmly played by Allen Gilmore) asked him earlier that day, “When life’s trials and tribulations rip you apart, is it in her arms that you become whole again?” For Yasmina and Sam, it is the question of their relationship. Perhaps, for the audience, it is the question of the moment: in a world where systemic oppression seems to run rampant, how can we open our arms and help each other become whole again? (Emma Couling)
Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn, (312)443-3800, goodmantheatre.org, $10-$40. Through November 19.