In my continuing mission to go see new, locally produced works this year, I went to see one of the final performances of Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World, produced at A Contemporary Theatre, as part of their collaboration with the Icicle Creek Theatre Festival to produce new work in the Pacific Northwest. Icicle Creek, while reliant on student labor, was created specifically to produce new work, which is a mission I applaud. I also applaud, support, and trumpet ACT’s continuation this year of producing a great deal of new work.
I wasn’t wild about the play itself. While the director’s notes focused on the story as a new, radically less depressing way of discussing what it is like to be an immigrant in the United States, what I saw was a cheesy love story. The difficulty of an immigrant’s life was definitely there, but the main characters — Sheri and Musa — fall into classic romantic comedy stereotypes. Sheri was a neurotic, chatty waitress who had only ever dated losers (according to her), and Musa was a star-struck taxi driver who, despite his beautiful Muslim fiancee Gamila, pursues Sheri because she represents a — dare I say it — whole new world for him. Over the course of a month, they blend their lives together, and their love overcomes their cultural differences, and they make each other feel as though they can do anything. They drive off into the sunset and presumably live happily ever after at the end of the show (and lest you think Gamila is left in the cold, the split scene put her together with one of Musa’s friends, who had earlier complimented her as perfect marriage material, so the insinuation of course is that Gamila has a new beau). It was wrapped up with the same ease as a happy episode of Sex and the City. I didn’t really see the depth.
However, there was a lot to like about the show. It was genuinely funny, in that way that awkward moments in relationships are a painful and familiar source of amusement for all of us. The acting was very high energy, fueled by clever lines, clear blocking and intention (thanks, director Anita Montgomery!), and a genuine effervescence that quickly infected the audience. And the scene where Musa and Gamila break up was starkly real, yet hopeful, because they resolved their differences and looked to their own futures — in which their former partner had not fit very well.
I am so, so glad that this show was produced. To have a romantic comedy where race and religion are issues, that manages to avoid Muslim stereotypes (Sheri was a stereotype, but that’s a whole other argument), is very refreshing. A kinder, lighter take on culture clash is also a nice change of pace — while the show didn’t start any deep conversations for me, it did still effectively highlight the problems a multicultural country often faces, in a very plain, every-day way.
And, most importantly, it is a new show by a living playwright with a full production on a main stage — it wasn’t ghettoized into a tiny theatre for “workshopping.” The workshopping at Icicle Creek actually led somewhere, which wasn’t more workshopping at a different theatre. The script certainly has some room for improvement, but you know what? So do Shakespeare and Sophocles.
Hooray for ACT, and here’s to more fully-produced new work in the future!