Directed by Jatinder Verma
Pros: A unique and informative approach to the political and social climate faced by Muslims in America, with an incredibly detailed set.
Cons: A heavy handed script and overacting makes the show difficult to bear at times.
Our Verdict: The content of the show plus its expert design give it value, though ultimately some flaws in style and performance detract from from the best aspects.
|Credit: George Torode|
Wajahat Ali’s The Domestic Crusaders, which makes its UK debut at Tara Arts this month, can best be described as part formulaic sitcom and part hard-hitting drama. Following a birthday celebration in an American-Pakistani home in suburban California, the piece covers topics ranging from what to eat for dinner and study at school to religious difference and persecution. And while the show makes a valiant effort to present the complexities of the family’s situation and draw attention to the social climate of post-9/11 America, it all came off a little strange and forced.
The show makes a striking initial impression, before the action starts, with its richly detailed set. The perfect replica of a suburban family room is uncanny. It’s a strange comment for something so ordinary, but I can’t remember the last time I saw a production with such a flawlessly manufactured setting. The intimate venue puts audiences right in front of the action, almost as if you’re sitting in the salon along with the family.
Unfortunately, what takes place in the action isn’t as believable or interesting as the environment created for it. The style of the piece was incoherent; it sometimes felt paced for an prerecorded laugh-track, and probably would have been better off with laughter cues, a many jokes fell flat due in equal measure to rushing or over-acting. Other moments seemed way too serious to mesh with the kooky sitcom vibe of the majority of the show. Essentially, the production failed to find its groove, and was therefore hard to become fully invested in.
While I can’t say the cast didn’t have energy, I can say there was a definitive lack of chemistry. I had trouble believing they were all family – and not just because each family member has such a wildly different American dialect (though to be fair I am American, so maybe I’m a little more nitpicky than some.) Again, the relationships seemed forced and skin deep, which is unfortunate because there was definitely a lot of tension beneath the surface going on for each character, and I would have liked to see the play’s subtext and humanity struggle to come through, as opposed to feeling like I was being presented with an after-school special.
Regardless, Ali’s script, whether being a bit jumbled in its own right or misused in this production, does make some valid points about what it means to be situated between cultures, nationalities, religions, and generations. There are moments, such as the way the family becomes so Westernized the moment they turn on the television or radio, or a heated argument about career expectations, or when the oldest, least traditional child falls instinctively into moments of familial tradition, even though he rejects his parents’ desires for him and their lifestyle choices, when the play rings true. However, these moments were few and far between and ultimately overshadowed by an overall lack of depth and passion.
The Domestic Crusaders may not be for everyone, and this production may not be the best maiden voyage for the script here in the UK, however, the current run is a good chance to experience fresh theatre about a foreign situation and decide for yourself. And furthermore, the design and the venue are a real treat, and definitely worth a visit in the future.
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comment section below.
The Domestic Crusaders runs at Tara Arts until 11 October.
Box office: call +44 (0)20 8333 4457, or book online at http://tara-arts.com/whats-on/the-domestic-crusaders