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“Playground” Chronicles a 10-Year-Old Yemeni Girl’s Struggle to Get a Divorce from a Man Three Times Her Age

Jeff Aguiar plays a sinister Old Friend of Nujood's family

The Raleigh, NC-based Distillery Theatre Company will present the world premiere of Playground, an absurdist play written by Appalachian State University senior Jonathan Fitts of Boone and directed by Burning Coal Theatre Company associate artistic director Kylie McCormick, on Sept. 30-Oct. 3 and Oct. 7-10 at the Burning Coal Theatre at the Murphey School in the Oakwood Section of downtown Raleigh. Based on a true story and presented as part of Burning Coal’s “Wait ‘Til You See This!” second-stage series, Playground chronicles the struggle of a typical Yemeni girl, married at age 10 to a man three times her age, to obtain a divorce from her abusive husband. It was an act of defiance that alienated her from her family, her country, and especially its Islamic judicial system.

“I heard a report on NPR about Nujood Ali’s story,” recalls Distillery Theatre Company artistic director Sylvia M. Mallory. “I immediately contacted Jonathan Fitts and asked him to write a play about it. I gave him three instructions: (1) Find the humor, (2) I don’t want men leaving feeling like they want to slit their wrists for being male, and (3) I don’t want women lining up to cut their wrists for them. Jonathan Fitts has balanced the horrific story behind this child-bride’s story, and the scope of oversexualizing young girls [with] a universal message.”

She adds, “[Playground] makes you examine what we do to young girls, no matter what culture they are from in this world.” Moreover, Mallory says, “This show uses an absurdist approach by casting children as adult characters and adults as kid characters. Sometimes, kids act more like adults than adults do.”

In addition to playwright Jonathan Fitts, director Kylie McCormick, and producer Sylvia Mallory, the Distillery Theatre Company creative team for Playground includes puppet designer Sam Corey, properties manager Rachel McCrain, sound designer Becca Easley, dramaturg Erin Hopkins, and production stage manager Chris Wallen.

Sylvia Mallory says the play’s set is “a broken-down, American-style playground in Yemen” and its costumes are “a mixture of traditional Yemeni garb and American style [clothing].”

Mallory says, “Throughout the play, a series of childhood games is used to tell Nujood Ali’s story. Nujood (Page Purgar) tells us it is her wedding day, she is only 10 years old, and she is about to marry a man three times her age. She receives counsel from her father and mother (Dylan Goodman and Annabel Bloom, ages 15 and 10), who tell her that she must marry this man, because that is just how things are done.

“After the wedding,” Mallory explains, “[Nujood’s] husband, Muhammad (Ted Waechter, age 14), rapes her in an indescribable and horrific dodge-ball game. She also receives counsel from An Old Friend (Jeff Aguiar), who pushes her to stay the course and not to rock the boat. However, when Ra’diah (Courtney Pisano, age 14) emerges as a ghost from the shadows beaten [and bruised], Nujood understands that this is wrong.”

Mallory says, “Nujood decides to ask her husband for a divorce. He declines her request. Nujood takes her life into her own hands. She convinces her father to take her into the city, where she will secretly find a lawyer who will help her divorce her husband. Upon her arrival though, her father and his business associates played by the Chorus (Leo Brody and Anna Grey Voelker, both age 15) create a list of ‘Rules and Regulations’ that she must abide by while in town.

“When [Nujood] sneaks away,” says Sylvia Mallory, “she accidentally runs into Al-Ghandha (a puppet operated by the Chorus), who happens to be a judge. The judge takes sympathy on her and introduces her to Shada (Jenny Wales), who becomes her lawyer and even promises her an opportunity to go to school.

“Through the trial, temper tantrums are had, and ground breaking decisions are made, [and eventually] Nujood is granted her divorce,” Mallory reports. “In a moment of liberation, the playground crumbles in a pile of scrap and Nujood begins to build a new playground with new rules and regulations.”

SECOND OPINION: Oct. 6th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 2 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/experimental-take-on-sharia-law-in-the-distillerys-playground/Content?oid=1711895. (To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Sept. 30th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2010/09/playground-chronicles-a-10-year-old-yemeni-girls-struggle-to-get-a-divorce-from-a-man-three-times-her-age/.)

EDITOR’S NOTE: To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.

The Distillery Theatre Company presents PLAYGROUND at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 30-Oct. 2 and Oct. 7-9 and 2 p.m. Oct. 3 and 10 in Burning Coal Theatre at the Murphey School, 224 Polk St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27604.

TICKETS: $10, except $5 Education Rush Tickets for students and teachers with ID (sold 5 minutes before each show).

BOX OFFICE: 919/279-3903 or info@distillerytheatre.org.

SHOW/PRESENTER: http://www.distillerytheatre.org/.

SEASON: http://www.distillerytheatre.org/currentseason.html.

BLOG: http://playgrounddrama.blogspot.com/.

VENUE/DIRECTIONS: http://www.burningcoal.org/third/murphey.html.

OTHER LINKS:

Wedlocked” (CNN documentary about Nujood Ali): http://edition.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/international/2009/08/28/wus.wedlock.bk.a.cnn.html (part 1) and http://edition.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/international/2009/08/28/wus.wedlock.bk.b.cnn.html (part 2).

Kylie McCormick: http://www.kyliemccormick.com/ (official website).

Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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Categorised in: Features, Lead Story, Theatre Feature