Photo by Alan Simons

March 14, 2012

Theater: ‘Hour of Feeling’ merges political with romantic

Part of the Humana Festival of New American Plays

‘The Hour of Feeling’
Written by Mona Mansour. Directed by Mark Wing-Davey. Continues through April 1 at Actors Theatre of Louisville as part of the Humana Festival of New American Plays. For tickets or info, go to actorstheatre.org or call 584-1205.

With his new wife by his side, young Palestinian scholar Adham (Hadi Tabbal) is off to London, where he has been invited to give a lecture on William Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey.” Convinced this is his big break, he leaves his mother and small village behind just days before the Six-Day War breaks out in the summer of 1967. To Adham, he has not abandoned anything — his mother, Beder (Judith Delgado), has raised him to be a brilliant scholar in hopes he would forever escape the life of a refugee. Just as Wordsworth explains that he keeps the memories of the banks of the Wye in his heart wherever he goes, Adham is confident his mother and Beit Hanina will forever be a part of him, whether or not he returns. But does his wife feel the same?

Mona Mansour’s play is heavy, with an adequate amount of smart humor to break up the density. It’s every bit as political as it is romantic. The first thing this production does remarkably well is establish time and place through scenery and sound. It was very clearly 1967, and we were either under the hot rays of the West Bank sun or in rainy London. The fantastic vintage set was supplemented by the use of video to throw in a few news bits of the time to give us some context, and to insert English subtitles whenever the actors were speaking in Arabic, which was often.

The subtitles sometimes popped up a few beats late — one character’s lines would show up while the next person was already responding. Whenever Adham and Abir (his wife, played by Rasha Zamamiri) were alone or in Beit Hanina, the actors would speak clear English, but by the dialogue, the audience could understand that the characters were actually interacting in their own language. Whenever they were in the presence of English speakers, the couple would speak Arabic to one another, and even though Adham speaks perfect English, he would have a thick accent. The jumping back and forth between the two languages and the accents were commendable, as it didn’t seem to throw the actors off a bit. There was one scene in particular where Adham and Abir were speaking in Arabic with the English subtitles behind them, even though the actors didn’t need to since they were alone, but reading their words instead of hearing them made an already intimate moment even more powerful.

Tabbal used excessive hand gestures that were a little distracting, but they fit his character, who admits early on that he might be “too much.” The strongest aspect of his performance was his shift in persona when he interacts with his mother, his wife or the English scholars. It’s still the same Adham all along, but, as we all do, he wears various masks. Zamamiri does beautiful work as an intelligent, passionate and patient wife, who remains true to herself and her values. As Adham’s mother — who is always a voice in his head (literally) — Delgado exudes love for her son and practicality, while never letting go of the pain she endured as a refugee. Diana (Marianna McClellan) is charming as that perpetually high, twirling long-haired girl who’s always at the party.

As the English scholars, David Barlow and William Connell give hilarious performances, though they are presented as goofy caricatures of “higher minds,” which make for the most entertaining but compelling parts of the play. They will sit around and argue over three lines of a Romantic poem, while being totally uneducated and uninterested in issues like the conflict in the Middle East. I left the theater feeling like I saw great work, and that I should read the news more.