Habibi adds an enigmatic viewpoint to a growing chorus of Palestinian voices
This father and son dynamic, familial and almost too familiar, comes intercut with a public talk by a high-class museum curator (a sharp and funny El Samahy, dressed by costume designer Courtney Flores in esteem-grabbing Manhattan chic and sporting a very respectable English accent), who leads us through a slide lecture on the great art heists of the last century. Her talk, avid but meandering, is interrupted by simultaneously exasperating and guilt-producing phone calls from her terminally ill father, and a consequent tendency to wander into ruminations farther afield — summoned for us in pictures of dispossession that float by on the screen behind her (in video projections designed by Aubrey Millen).
Maybe these wayward ruminations aren't so far afield after all, we come to suspect, as her theme of cultural theft warms up to its own complexities and encourages us to consider the nature of cultural transmission, loss, and hybridization in the life-and-death circumstances of exiled populations. This idea deepens as Tariq's raucous and rebellious spirit extends to breaking into the curator's monologue, and even smashing the fourth wall to confront us, her audience. Tariq also has a unique tendency to narrate his own actions, a self-conscious conceit that can be productive at times, especially of humor, and works as an indirect aside to the audience.
By the end, the two narratives come even closer together through a rash act of Tariq's father that trades disastrously on the concept of family heirlooms, or the physical symbols of patrimony and place. The climax arrives too hastily, and its potential impact is muted. At the same time, the play's departure from the more universal, shopworn gestures of "melting pot" tales verges on something rare and coruscating.
Thurs.–Sun., 8 p.m.; through Nov. 7; $15–$25
Intersection for the Arts
446 Valencia, SF