The immigrant experience is a storied piece of American lore: huddled masses, etc. Wave after wave have come to the U.S., many recently from the Middle East. Writ large, they arrive and gradually adjust to American life. But what does that look like on the micro level? How do individuals and families make those adjustments without completely losing their identities?
That’s perhaps the deepest underlying question in Noura. Set in a small loft in Queens, Iraqi immigrants Noura (Lameece Issaq) and Tareq (Mattico David) are raising their son Yazen (Giovanni Cozic) and doing their best to integrate into American society. They have been in the U.S. for eight years and have new American passports – prized possessions with Anglicized names: Nora, Tim, Alex.
The Chaldean Christian family is poised to celebrate Christmas. Their guests are Rafa’a (Fajer Kaisi) and Maryam (Isra Elsalihie), fellow Iraqi immigrants. Rafa’a is an old friend from Mosul who seems to have fully acclimated. Maryam is a recent immigrant, an orphan from Mosul Noura and Tareq have sponsored.
There’s something seemingly idyllic about the domestic scene – the food, the presents. Tareq cannot keep his hands off Noura. Still, Noura smokes nervously on the balcony, letting the snow engulf her.
Even after eight years in New York, the family is still wrestling with their new life. An architect in Iraq, Noura has designed a house that cannot exist in this space or time – too large, too communal, too evocative of her life in Mosul. That theme is consistent throughout. They are happy to be in America – happy to be alive – but what have they lost?
Raffo’s dialogue and McKeon’s direction are impeccable, smooth, natural, fluid. The interactions portray an easy familiarity and unwillingness to betray personal secrets. One conversation between Noura and Rafa’a, friends for decades, is exceptionally poignant. The cast is superb, particularly Kaisi, whose easygoing demeanor belies deep turmoil.
But while the organic interactions between Noura and Rafa’a, Tareq, Yazen and Maryam are wonderful, the ensuing speeches detract – walls of rhetoric that make everything stop. We go from watching an actual extended family work through their anxieties to watching a play.
Still, Noura is a powerful, drama from a young playwright who is clearly worth watching. Even flawed, it’s beautiful to watch.