Romancing the Terrorist: Tajiki Nights
nytheatre.com review by Komail Aijazuddin
August 13, 2006
Romancing the Terrorist: Tajiki Nights tells the improbable story of a Republican American President who falls in love with a rebel leader in Tajikistan. A phone call between the men after an attack on the American embassy in Tajikistan quickly unravels into a critical analysis of George Michael's musical repertoire, with both concluding that you gotta, indeed, have faith. From here on in, their love grows at the expense of our patience.
The premise of the play is deeply imaginative. It is the brainchild of the Jewish/Muslim writing team Mike Wallach and Negin Farsad (both direct as well). Wallach is currently on sabbatical from his day job as the Senior Analyst for Middle East Public Opinion at the State Department. Both writers' expertise is evident. Details, phrases, and conversations make accurate and unbiased references to the present political nuances in the region. The script is an obvious, if unrealistic, metaphor: charismatic President asks for forgiveness for his previous deceptions. Think of it as a kinkier Clinton in the Bush wars. Marshall York plays the flashy, charming President confidently, articulately and engagingly.
Despite the timely subjects (the Middle East meets gay civil rights; two birds, one rocket) the production seems bent on presenting the audience with little more than a "wouldn't it be cool if...?" story brimming with juvenile humor. Repetitive conversations about George Michael (the soundtrack is almost entirely WHAM, fun for all) and serious debates by the Tajiks (predictably, they all live in tents) about American syndicated television, though initially sweet, ultimately curdle. Mike Mosallam, cast as the terrorist, is underwhelming. For a character so vital to the success of the story, he forgoes subtlety in favor of rabid gesticulation, performing a caricature rather than a character. It comes across as infantile and, worse, unbelievable.
You consistently question why these two men are together in the script. One day later and I still have the suspicion that I'll have to take the writers' word for it. This is where Tajiki Nights ultimately fails. A play that hinges on the laws of improbability demands a strong, or at the very least tolerable, link to the plausible, even in comedy. What we get instead is a wildly unbelievable, wholly insincere, and needlessly puerile lack of chemistry.
Still, a strong supporting cast that includes Jay Bois, Diana DePasquale, Bethany Sacks, Jamie Greenberg, Meret Oppenheim and Allen Warnok does much for the play. Collectively their characters are irreverent, funny, sincere, and immediately likeable. The direction is rather choppy. The play is full of short scenes that distract rather than engage an audience, many of which are unnecessary. Tajiki Nights could have been an interesting, informative, and important work, if ever it dared to comment on its context rather than using it as an enticing platform for a stale show.