Review: Women Attempting to Escape the Tyranny of Men in ‘Angel’ and ‘Echoes’ at 59E59
By Diana Mott, Contributing Writer, April 17, 2017
Two parts of Henry Naylor’s trilogy of one-act plays, Arabian Nightmares, are now being presented at the Theaters at 59E59. These two one-acts, Angel and Echoes, both received awards from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival when they were presented there between 2014 and 2016.
Angel is loosely based on the story of the Kurdish freedom fighter called Rehana, with a thrilling performance by Avital Lvova. Angel is the bright, rebellious daughter of a Kobane farmer, taught to handle a gun when she is 13 as part of her father’s training program for running the family farm. But while her father dreams of a time when his daughter and all women will be equal to men, Rehana envisions her future as a lawyer. “Nature is a monster,” she tells her father. “Much better the reasoned judgments of men than the arbitrary, amoral, shitty Rules of Nature.” But any future for Rehana and her family is interrupted by the occupation of their land during the Arab Spring in 2012 by the Islamic State. Rehana is compelled to escape to Turkey with her mother, but when she reaches the relative safety of the border she learns that her father has foolishly stayed behind to protect their farm. She embarks on a treacherous return journey to rescue her father and along the way, the pacifist law student becomes a sharpshooter for a female band of YPG freedom fighters. In the end, Angel is no longer able to see man as a reasonable creature, and must embrace a dreadful paradox: “That to create a land free from tyranny, we must be as bloody as the tyrants themselves.” On a stage bare of anything save a wooden barrel, Lvova’s solo performance brings Rehana and all of the secondary characters to vivid life under the steady hand of director Michael Cabot.
In Echoes, two 17 year-old women separated by almost two centuries, stand on stage together, one in a white summer gown, the other in black hijab. Both long to escape the narrow-mindedness of Ipswich, England for a place where they can live more meaningful, religious lives. Tillie (Rachel Smyth), an educated young Victorian woman, wards off her “pasty-faced” suitors with her knowledge of entomology and Greek. She joins the Fleet of Women, a program that provided free passage to India to potential brides for the countless bureaucrats, soldiers, and businessmen who worked for the East India Company. Samira (Serena Monteghi), a young Muslim woman working in a convenience store in modern day Ipswich, gets an expense paid trip to Raqqa when she agrees to become a bride of the Caliphate. She tells us that she was “groomed for jihad” by Nigel Farage, the conservative politician who ran on a platform that marginalized the Syrian refugee crisis in an era where “Kim Kardashian’s bottom” gets more prominent news coverage than women and children escaping Syria without food or shelter.
Tillie finds her lieutenant husband on the boat. Samira finds hers on Skype. Tillie’s husband is posted to Afghanistan where she learns he is a violent man and the British aim of godliness and prosperity is actually a mission to suppress local farmers. Samira, at first sequestered in a hostel of brides, soon discovers that her husband interprets the Qur’an to suit his own violent, misogynist purposes.
Both narratives alternate seamlessly to tell parallel stories of their gradual disillusionment and horror, caused by the men and the ideas they had hoped would save them. “We created Men,” says Samira. “And they would destroy us.” “Limit our voices,” answers Tillie. Though we are distanced from Tillie and Samira by time and culture, their intimate histories engage us because they are filled with quotidian details, acts of courage, and even a little humor, and the nuanced performances of both actresses bridge all the gaps and make us care.
Angel and Echoes presented as part of the Brits Off Broadway series at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Running through May 7, 2017. Written by Henry Naylor (from Arabian Nightmares). Directed by Emma Butler (Echoes) and Michael Cabot (Angel). Presented by Redbeard Theater in cooperation with Gilded Balloon. Cast: Avital Lvova (Rehana, the Angel); Rachel Smyth (Tillie) and Serena Manteghi (Samira).
Cover: (l.-r.) Rachel Smyth and Serena Manteghi in ‘Echoes;’ photo: Carol Rosegg.