"Noura": An Iraqi Mother’s Story that Brings All Women Closer
SOURCE: FAIRFAX TIMES
BY: HANAN DAQQA
What do you know about the inner world of a silent immigrant or refugee woman? How does she make the transition–as a woman, as a mother and on top of that, as a refugee–to her new self… to America?
“Noura,” a Shakespeare Theatre play written by the award-winning playwright and performer, Heather Raffo, and directed by Joanna Settle, revolves around a refugee woman from Iraq, Noura (played by Raffo), who struggles to remake her identity. Moving from the East to the West, Noura moves from a culture of community to a culture of individuality. Through the process of reinventing herself, she has to face an old secret.
“Noura” is engaging from beginning to end, and its use of bold and uncompromising dialogue leaves you with haunting questions. The plot uses the element of surprise and shocks the audience in two scenes: one in the beginning as you meet Maryam (played by Dahlia Azama), and one at the end when Noura reveals her old secret.
As the story unfolds, you realize that Noura is at the intersection of complex issues that women face: The harsh, tribal mentality and double standards between men and women when it comes to sexuality in the Middle East, the lack of support for motherhood in America compared to that in Iraq. The play also explores the relationship between Muslims and Christians in Iraq.
The Christmas tree has a strong presence in the play, likely to put the American audience at ease as they experience the Eastern culture. According to Raffo, the play takes place around Christmas time because of “the way people are looking for light in a dark time and looking for miracles to happen in the darkest and coldest hours, there is a lot of imagery that comes with a particular search that immigrants are going through…it is a holiday that many Americans will understand.”
The joyous Christmas tree is surrounded with a huge curved wall that separates between Noura’s two worlds. The design makes you feel unsettled just as this Iraqi family is in the new environment.
The transition from indoors to outdoors was done beautifully, with well-timed lighting and sound effects. Every time Noura leaves her home, she enters into herself. She covers herself with a blanket, and as she is covered with the blanket, she is covered by her memories. The voice of the well-loved Lebanese singer Fairouz takes Noura to her memories and takes the audience to the heart of the Middle East.
When Fairfax County Times asked Raffo about her kissing scene, she replied that “It was very important to show the audience that the marriage that you see on stage is a loving marriage between people who love and need each other, and then when things about their marriage come out and get harder, if you never saw them show affection for each other, you would not understand that their marriage could survive this … It is about how you tell a story. It is going to show the audience that Middle-Eastern men and women have successful marriages that are deep and loving and human, because the stereotype is that they do not.”
Knowing that theater is not in the cultural DNA of the Middle-Eastern community, Raffo will reach out to them in other ways, “to take theater into their communities in different ways … to not expect them to come to the Western Theatre, but to go into pockets of their community, to do work inside somebody’s home for 15 or 20 women, to do work where they can bring their kids, and to do work where food is provided and they can come as a family unit.”
As you leave “Noura,” you will have a question that keeps you thinking. I left with two: Is the American woman assertive enough to understand and shape the full rights of motherhood—from a female point of view? Does avoiding the past keep immigrant women from fully developing their new American identity?