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Heather Raffo’s NOURA through the Eyes of Teen Critics

Every season a group of High School students participate in STC’s Teen Critic program. These students attend the productions, participate in workshops and craft critical reviews reflecting their unique perspectives on the performances.  Fourteen young critics are participating in this year’s program and below are excerpts from some of their reviews.

Click here to find out more about the Teen Critic program.

Maggie Klein, Senior
Oakton High School

What does it mean to belong? Is it simply to be a part of a group? To have the right qualities to fit in a specific environment? To be the property of? You can belong in a place, to a social group, with a loved one, but does this sense of belonging come from our conformity or our individuality? These are the questions Noura, a world-premiere play written by and starring Heather Raffo, begs us to consider.

Lily Pérez, Sophmore
Woodrow Wilson Senior High School

Heather Raffo’s voice- with its complex analysis of identity and community, and earnest calls for change- will be heard. As part of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, Raffo brings to the stage rich portrayals of Iraqi immigrants, each with varying perspectives of the conflict in their home country—characters  grappling  with finding their place in America, the country in which they’ve taken refuge. Informed by her own cultural background as an Arab American, artist, and mother, Raffo shares the story of a woman whose inner conflicts, drives, and desires, are ingrained in her by both her experience as a refugee and the profound traditions of her homeland. In Noura, these foundations are rocked by reveals which force the play’s characters to speak their truths- as Raffo has spoken hers in this affecting production.

Isabel Echavarria, Junior
Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School

Although Noura’s strong-willed persona is evident through her interactions with others, her behavior diverges when she is alone. Several scenes in the production have no dialogue or action, consisting solely of Noura smoking a cigarette. The sound of her breath can be heard as she gazes out into the audience. These scenes contrast with the others, for it is the only time Noura appears truly centered and at peace as an individual. During these moments onstage, the audience witnesses Noura without the complications created by her new surroundings, and is seen solely as an individual practicing a bad habit that she enjoys. In these moments, she is not confined by her setting or by the new culture to which she is expected to conform. The only sound in the scene, Noura’s breath, is included as a reminder that despite the chaos of her life and her identity, she is just a living being. These scenes emphasize Noura’s humanity, despite her lost identity highlighted in the rest of the play.

Trevor Ross, Senior

Before I get into the more complex themes the play brings up, I first would like to commend the direction from Joanna Settle who directed the play. Everything from the lighting, to the use of Iraqi music, to the simple yet effective set design, and even the monologue from the inside of our main lead’s head gives the play realistic atmosphere. There were many times in the production where I felt I was not watching a play, but rather the turmoil and daily struggle of a family from a different culture during the holidays. The play succeeds greatly in giving a newcomer insight into the life of someone from a different background how they prepare for a holiday.

Emily Mayo, Sophomore
Walt Whitman High School

With Joanna Settle at the helm of this production, each silence between Raffo’s words becomes pregnant with meaning. Noura and the characters she clashes with throughout the show wield their unsaid words like knives, tearing secrets from each other – about family, forbidden love, past revelations – and eventually causing the abrupt twist ending that left me stunned into my own silence.

Becca Kurtz, Sophomore
School Without Walls

The set is the most striking portrayal of this play’s themes. In the home of the two Iraqi immigrants, newly American citizens, there is little furniture. Several chairs of differing shapes scatter the one open room, and a circular dining table occupies the right side of the stage. The barrier between the room and what we come to know as the outside is a brick wall. My understanding of the wall was that it served not only a practical function – the gaps between every brick allowed for us to watch the characters walk away even after they stormed out of the room – but a symbolic one as well. Noura’s heart to heart with her dearest childhood friend Rafa’a (Matthew David) shows us much about middle age and honesty and how to stay open-minded when what you want most is to close in everything that seems to be leaving you. “In letting go of the burden of silence, you open a door,” Noura says. Such a line is striking against the wall of bricks that you shouldn’t be able to see through. Noura’s home is like her soul: not transparent, but getting there.

Ester Luna, Freshman
Washington International School

Something I love about Noura is how Raffo’s characters are written explicitly to go against stereotypes of certain people or cultures that Americans are often faced with. Maryam, for example, is not a pity-inducing Iraqi refugee who comes to America broken and traumatized. She is a confident young woman who is not afraid to speak her mind; it is clear that the tragedies she experienced in Iraq, did not weaken her, but rather served to make her strong and determined. Dalhia Azama plays this role extremely well: her loud, clear speech and smooth gait make her every word and action feel carefully calculated, and exude a sense of purpose. Noura and Tariq’s relationship is also very unlike what I imagine a traditional Middle-Eastern marriage to be. The two are clearly equals, and married for love, not for any kind of personal gain. Their relationship is warm and sweet, as demonstrated by Raffo and Nabil Elouahabi’s frequent kisses and tendency to mindlessly gravitate towards one another on stage.

Kelai’ah Wheelan, Senior
Suitland High School

Noura is truly an American story. This is a country of immigrants and as a first born American citizen this play left me stunned because I was able to see my family taking the place of the characters on stage. No my family has not experienced anything directly like this but they have gone through similar struggles. The struggles of figuring out how to carry culture into an essentially new world, whether to leave it all behind, stick to what you know, or finding a balance between the two different ideals. Noura is the kind of play I recommend you to watch to open your eyes to a new perspective in life.

Rachel Wei, Senior
Thomas S. Wootton High School

Noura was a stirring, touching play that opened my eyes to the experiences of those often mentioned in the news; it gave “the refugees” that are discussed among political leaders a name and a face. Noura’s exploration of how to balance her current identity with her past, especially as a mother and wife was also interesting. Watching Noura’s journey made me reflect on my own experiences and wonder what is in store for me in the future.

Pria Dahiya, Junior
Bethesda Chevy-Chase High School

I can understand why the Shakespeare Theater Company, a theater company known for showcasing classical theater, would chose Noura as its entry in the Women’s Voices in Theater Festival. Noura is a modern classic. Its timeless themes and ideas will continue to ring true so long as the world still has refugees, immigrants, women, families, and mothers.

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