Now that the Obama administration has set in motion a timetable for troop withdrawal from Iraq, the search begins for a way to heal that country from the death and devastation. The depth and breadth of damage done to Persian civilization has been severe throughout the reign of Saddam and the war under President Bush. But in this touching portrait of an Iraqi anthropologist — and his wife, colleagues and acquaintances — playwright Michele Lowe has opened a window of hope and opportunity.
On the eve of the U.S. invasion, Darius Shalid (Piter Marek), a museum director and on-site excavation chief in an outlying province of Iraq, has undertaken a journey fraught with peril: traveling to London with a secret plan to protect certain antiquities from both Western invaders and resident fundamentalists.
Lowe weaves an intricate tale that’s both a love story and an ode to the treasures of the unique, far-reaching civilization that developed between the Tigris and the Euphrates. The story’s centerpiece is a sculpture of ancient mother goddess Inana — metaphorically, the soul of country — whose safety is entrusted to Darius. Lowe brings this imagery and symbolism to flesh in Darius’ new wife, Shali (Mahira Kakkar).
The entirety of the action takes place in a middling London hotel room and adjoining bathroom, with an extended downstage used for flashbacks. In the intimate Ricketson Theater, the immediacy of the action in space and its fluidity in time provides a flexible canvas in which memory seamlessly informs the present, underscoring the psychological and spiritual depth of Lowe’s characters and their context in the larger conflict.
In the opening scene, director Michael Pressman’s well-tempered staging of a white hijab-swathed Shali’s mysterious silence initiates a seductive unveiling of emotions set to the rhythm of a compelling thriller. Both Darius and Shali risk everything to remain faithful to their culture and themselves.
Their interplay is punctuated by a couple of bizarre characters: a boisterous and too-familiar waiter (the hilarious David Ivers) and a furtive, hair-trigger go-between (an edgy Alok Tewari). Well-drawn flashbacks feature an antiquarian bookseller (an alternately passionate and stoic Laith Nakli), a world-renowned forger (clever, big-hearted Nasser Faris), Darius’ first wife and Shali’s sister (both played by an animated and engaging Reema Zaman).
The production’s final scene is lent credence by a recent news report of the return of more than 24,000 Iraqi antiquities, allegedly looted originally with tacit U.S. approval. With the disengagement from the war still a contentious issue in some circles, “Inana” adds immeasurable depth to a dialogue begging to be heard in D.C. and throughout the country.