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Time Out Theater Review: 'The Who & the What'

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It was recently announced that Ayad Akhtar's Pulitzer Prize winning play "Disgraced" will be heading to Broadway this fall. Now, Lincoln Center Theatre is presenting another work from Akhtar as part of its LCT 3 series, a series devoted to new artists and new audiences. Time Out New York's David Cote filed the following report for NY1.

Last year fast-rising playwright Ayad Akhtar won the Pulitzer Prize for "Disgraced," set among multicultural New Yorkers who weren’t as tolerant of Islam as they thought. Now, Akhtar goes even deeper with a story of faith and intolerance within a Pakistani-American family: "The Who & The What."

It’s a thoughtful drama about what happens when spiritual ideals meet messy reality.

The patriarch of the family, Afzal, played with ebullient bossiness by Bernard White, runs a successful cab company in Atlanta, Georgia. Afzal is a widower, and his energy's focused on getting his two daughters married to suitable (read: Muslim) men.

One daughter is nurse-in-training Mahwish, played by Tala Ashe; the other is Zarina, played by Nadine Malouf. Mahwish tries to obey her father, but Zarina is more freethinking. She’s working on a novel that encapsulates her feminist frustration with aspects of the Prophet Mohammed.

The action of the play follows Zarina’s romance with Eli, a white convert to Islam that her father encourages. When Zarina’s novel takes a daring, some would say blasphemous shape, her father’s sweet-natured support reaches its breaking point. The cast navigates the intellectual and emotional terrain of the play nimbly, including Greg Keller as a man always finding himself on the outside. And although Akhtar’s play is clearly idea-driven, he’s crafted warm, three-dimensional characters you can care about.

If Lincoln Center Theater does its job, this smart and often humorous play will draw New Yorkers from all walks of life, Muslim or not, anyone eager to learn about the other.

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