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Writing for Us

A CurtainUp Review
The Beauty Inside

Tribal roots are ancient, set in the soil with roots that go deep. You can't change them overnight--- Nazim
How 'bout day-by-day?---Devrim

Tatiana Gomberg & Jennifer Gibbs
Tatiana Gomberg & Jennifer Gibbs
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
Catherine Filloux is not a playwright whose interests run to things light and trivial. In Eyes of the Heart, produced last season by the National Asian American Theatre Company she explored the havoc wreaked by the Khmer Rouge through the eyes of one of numerous Cambodian refugee who suffered psychosomatic blindness after witnessing the horrors of the 1975-79 Pol Pot leadership. The Beauty Inside is once again directed by Kay Matschullat and based on real events in distant places.

The story revolves around another traumatized woman, this one a fourteen-year-old Turkish farm girl who managed to escape being killed by her own family. The lingering practice (not limited to Turkey but world-wide) whereby brothers or fathers murder a family member to eradicate an otherwise permanent affront to the family's honor is the play's main theme.

In telling the story of young Yalova (Tatiana Gomberg) who survived being drowned by her brother (her "sin" being that she became pregnant after being repeatedly raped by a neighbor), the playwright also looks at the ties that bind more Westernized women like Devrim (Jennifer Gibbs) to the still tradition bound Yalovas of this world. Thus Devrim, who's in her late twenties and whose own American mother died when she was a child must not only use her legal skills to safeguard the girl from her family, but to nurture her as Peri (Michelle Rios), her own mother has failed to do.

As Yavlova wanted to please her mother but chose life and freedom so that the child growing within her can live, so Devrim wants to please her lawyer father Nazim (Edward A. Hajj). But while Nazim gave her a name which means revolution, he sees that revolution as standing for her breaking free from backward customs and, more specifically, taking advantage of an offer to join a prestigious American law firm. For Devrim living up to that name calls for using her freedom to advance that of those less privileged than she has been.

Ms. Filloux is to be commended for her humanitarian concerns and her genuine affection for her characters. The Beauty Inside is an affecting play even though the plot structure tends towards the manufactured and predictable. The main plot line which was inspired by an article about a case similar to Yalova's is straightforward enough. The contrivances slip in via the subtext resulting from a visit to Turkey during which Filloux witnessed a full solar eclipse from the Black Sea and less than a week later experienced an earthquake in Istanbul.

There's an interesting and valid aspect to the father daughter situation in that Devrim's father, though a modern man who wants his daughter to be a free and independent woman, nevertheless demands the same sort of loyalty as Yalova's tribal relatives. However, the added business about his less than impeccable ethical practices is a rather heavy handed device for demonstrating westernization's corrupting influence. The dialogue though often breathtakingly poetic, can at times be somewhat precious and too self-consciously metaphorical.

If director Kay Matschullat production is a bit clunky, blame it on the difficulties of fitting this multiple-themed drama into the confines of the Culture Project's basement space and within the constraints of a modest staging budget.

Of the five member cast, Edward A. Hajj ranks high for his charismatic portrayal of the charming but controlling father who might well make some viewers suspicious that his relationship with Devrim is a tad incestuous. Of the three women, Michelle Rios makes the strongest impression as the mother who has squelched her own maternal instincts in conformity to family tradition. A-men Rasheed bravely plays numerous peripheral male roles and does so with minimum confusion.

In an interview during the InterAct Theatre Company's premiere of this play in Philadelphia, Ms. Filloux expressed hope that the abuses concerning her would improve. She feels that the female lawyers in Turkey who defend women involved in family violence issues are making progress against being marginalized and is pleased to note that Turkey has implemented laws that make honor killing illegal, as have other countries.

You can expect to see more of her efforts to connect historical and fictive worlds goes on. Lemkin's House, about Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish lawyer who invented the word "genocide" and spent his life trying to make it an international crime, has already been produced in Sarajevo. Escuela Del Mundo is about a Columbine-like incident at a "world school." It's obvious that when you see the name Catherine Filloux next to a play title -- that play, even if not perfect or fast-paced fare, is always going to be about something.

The Eyes of the Heart

Beauty Inside
Written by Catherine Filloux
Directed by Kay Matschullat
Cast: Jennifer Gibbs, Tatiana Gomberg, Edward A. Hajj, A-men Rasheed and Michelle Rios
Set Design: Takeshi Kata
Costume Design: Oana Botez-Ban
Lighting Design: Clifton Taylor/Carolyn Wong
Sound Design:Shannon Zura
Props: Faye Armon
Original Music: Elizabeth Swados
Running time: 1 hr 45 mins with an intermission.
New Georges & InterAct Theatre Company at Culture Project, 45 Bleecker Street (45 Below at Lafayette)
SmartTix 212-868-4444
Open Seating.
From 4/15/05 through 5/07/05
Mondays through Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Saturdays at 3pm
Tickets: $25
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on April 16th press performance
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