Anyone who has ever looked for love knows the dilemma: Do you make a safe, sensible match? Or take a risk on an exciting someone who might – just might — be the one Great Romance of your life? In Yussef El Guindi’s charming, if slight, new play, “Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World,” this age-old quandary is complicated by a modern, multicultural twist.
Musa (Shanga Parker) is an Egyptian immigrant, torn between a proper, poised Muslim woman named Gamila (Kimberley Sustad) and a wildly improper — and wildly appealing – New York waitress, Sheri (Carol Roscoe). Musa’s global array of friends serves to frame and illuminate his mostly comic suffering.
The title alone tells you where the plot is headed, but it gets there on a tankful of wit. El Guindi has an ear for argument, which bubbles up any time two or more characters are on stage. They talk past, around or over each other until communication breaks down to the point that someone’s left shouting, “You are asking what?” Call it the comedy of exasperation.
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ACT Theater customarily executes this type of ensemble entertainment well, and this production is no exception. The pace, set by director Anita Montgomery, is snappy; Jennifer Zeyl’s Brooklyn-apartment set is so realistic it practically smells of stale pesticide; and the actors are all convincing – particularly Roscoe as the impulsive, explosive Sheri.
Could the play delve a little deeper? Undoubtedly. It obviously aims to make a point about the universal search for identity, and to a certain extent it succeeds. (In El Guindi’s world, we are all making a kind of pilgrimage into the future, looking for our true selves). But it glides over some of the darker aspects of Musa’s options – the soul-deadening act of settling for a safe relationship, on the one hand; the wrenching loneliness of the American dream of freedom on the other.
Yet, El Guindi, winner of numerous playwriting awards (“Language Rooms”), has given us a refreshing character in Musa, a young Arab man not defined by his politics or his religion but by his personal desires and moral conflicts. And the playwright’s giddy, “Who’s on first?”-style dialogue mark him as a talent to watch.