In Voyage Theater Company‘s ‘Unveiled,’ Rohina Malik plumbs the depths of anti-Muslim sentiment in the West. Yet paradoxically, this show of monologues, in which Malik is accompanied only by oud (lute) player Scott Wilson, left me with a feeling of peace and an appreciation for the essential goodness that is part of Islam, and indeed of all religions, because it is part of humanity.
In five monologues Malik takes on the characters of five women from different Muslim cultures. It’s a conceit reminiscent of the eponymous solo Broadway show that made Whoopi Goldberg famous back in the 1980s. Malik works with less dramatic fireworks than her memorable predecessor, but accomplishes a similar goal and one that’s very needed today: to insist to American audiences on the humanity fundamental to all of us, including women who wear the veil or hijab.
I said “five women,” but Malik also deftly voices conversations and encounters between her main subjects and their family members, suitors, and attackers, smoothly switching accents, injecting humor as well as anger and fear. Maryam, a Pakistani immigrant and clothing designer, refuses to take on a wedding-dress job – until she recounts her reason to a prospective client and something turns over in her own soul, aided by her recollection of a poem by Rumi that urges her to “Dance when you’re broken open.”
Malik is one of those actors whose performances seem powered as much by moral spirit as by craft. Whether she is Noor, a mature Moroccan-American lawyer recalling the anti-Muslim attack that resulted in her boyfriend’s death and drove her to pursue the law, or Shabana, a young South Asian immigrant rapper in London, haunted by shame after succumbing to post-9/11 fear and taking off her hijab, Malik gets to the heart of her characters through subtleties of language and tone, not exaggerated personae or extreme costume changes.
She even convincingly shows us an African-American Muslim convert – or “revert,” as Inez prefers it. And if the script gets a touch preachy or lecture-y a couple of times, I found that easy to forgive amid the liveliness of the characters and the rich message of peace. Linking Malik’s characters are the veil, recipes for tea from different cultures, and the exhortation from Palestinian immigrant Layla to “remove the veil from your heart.” “Realize we are one,” Layla demands of us. And if that’s a cliché, so be it – the sentiment needs to be heard, and this little show with a big message is a fine way to hear it.
Unveiled runs through June 6 at the 4th Street Theatre. Tickets are available online or at the door.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=0813026989][amazon template=iframe image&asin=081296618X][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00I55B5RO]