A harrowing depiction of a family who falls in and out of the socio-political turmoil of Baghdad, Layalina explores grief and self discovery through a uniquely diverse and queer lens.
Yousif’s drama is told in two acts. Act one is set in 2003 where we find a newly-wed Layal (played young by Becca Khalil) as her family prepares to immigrate from Baghdad to the Chicago burbs for a new life amidst ongoing civil unrest. Act two fast forwards to the pandemic disaster of 2020 where a more mature Layal (played by Atra Asdou) is floundering in her new American life as she navigates raising a family, starting a business and forgiving herself for the scabbed over traumas of her past.
Fresh from Goodman’s New Stages and Future Labs programs, Layalina is a breath of fresh air on the Owen Stage. Featuring a talented cast of five diverse actors and a storyline that is as queer as it is cultural, this play is a perfect example of the profound impact of cultivating conversation at the cross sections of identity. Sivan Battat’s direction is spot on for an intimate family drama and her ability to callback images is a cathartic delight.
Yousif’s script is both gentle and stirring and does a good job at not falling into the obvious traps, like masks, that most plays with a Covid era timestamp fall into. There is one instance where a non-binary character makes a large reference to the Black Lives Matter movement. While political resistance was a major event of 2020, one might desire more in-depth reasoning as to why this character, who is struggling with their identity, might be a champion of such a particular movement.
While I wished the design of the show lent itself more to the richness and expansiveness of the culture of Iraq and subsequently Chicago, the Goodman’s signature and stately scenic design does not disappoint. The scenic design by Casaboyce gives an accurate depiction of an upper middle class residence, effective for what might be considered a kitchen sink drama. While the lighting design by Jason Lynch helps to transform the otherwise static set into a increasingly dangerous political rally or ethereal dreamscape. Overall, I highly recommend this play and boast the praises of new work by diverse storytellers.
Layalina runs March 3rd through April 2nd, 2023 in Goodman’s Owen Theatre. Around 2 hours and 15 minutes including one intermission.
Waseem Alzer – Sahir/Amin
Atra Asdou – Karima/Layal
Ali Louis Bourzgui – Young Mazin/Yousif
Mattico David – Yasir/Mazin
Becca Khalil – Young Layal/Marwa
Angel Alzeidan – Understudy
Chris Khoshaba – Understudy
Jonathan Shaboo – Understudy
Shadee Vossoughi – Understudy
Martin Yousif Zebari – Playwright
Sivan Battat -Director
Casaboyce – Set Designer
Dina El-Aziz – Costume Designer
Jason Lynch – Lighting Designer
Eric Backus – Sound Designer
Ronnie Malley – Sound Designer
Jaci Entwisle – Production Stage Manager
Abigail Medrano – Stage Manager
Rachael Jimenez – Casting
Lauren Port – Casting
Jonathan L. Green – Dramaturg/Line Producer
Yasmin Zacaria Mikhaiel – Dramaturg
Layla Bahmanziari – Script Assistant
Eva Breneman – Vocal Coach
Phaedra Darwish – Khigga Instructor
Gloria Imseih Petrelli – Assistant Director/Intimacy Facilitator
Louis Sallan – Dialect Coach
Photo Caption: (L-R) Waseem Alzer, Ali Louis Bourzgui, Becca Khalil, and Atra Asdouin in Martin Yousif Zebari’s Layalina