Not much new in ‘All Atheists Are Muslim’ 

click to enlarge Solo show: Zahra Noorbakhsh tells the story of how her white, nonbelieving boyfriend was accepted by her old-world Iranian-immigrant parents in “All Atheists Are Muslim.” (Courtesy photo) - SOLO SHOW: ZAHRA NOORBAKHSH TELLS THE STORY OF HOW HER WHITE, NONBELIEVING BOYFRIEND WAS ACCEPTED BY HER OLD-WORLD IRANIAN-IMMIGRANT PARENTS IN “ALL ATHEISTS ARE MUSLIM.” (COURTESY PHOTO)
  • Solo show: Zahra Noorbakhsh tells the story of how her white, nonbelieving boyfriend was accepted by her old-world Iranian-immigrant parents in “All Atheists Are Muslim.” (Courtesy photo)
  • Solo show: Zahra Noorbakhsh tells the story of how her white, nonbelieving boyfriend was accepted by her old-world Iranian-immigrant parents in “All Atheists Are Muslim.” (Courtesy photo)

In comedian Zahra Noorbakhsh’s solo autobiographical play about informing her Iranian-immigrant, Muslim parents that her boyfriend, Duncan, is moving in with her, her father — struggling to fully comprehend that Duncan is an atheist — delivers a theory that explicates the show’s perplexing title: “All Atheists are Muslim.”

Noorbakhsh has created a detailed enough portrait of her intelligent, bombastic and loving father that his pronouncement is both funny and enlightening — and it’s the most interesting nugget in Noorbakhsh’s padded, disappointingly sitcom-like show.

Not that Noorbakhsh doesn’t also conjure an amusingly sympathetic persona for her shy, peacemaker mother and for herself — a young, thoroughly modern Muslim woman in America, caught between two cultures.

Having it out with her father — in one scene, their battle is staged as an initially funny but overlong boxing match — while Mom is in the bedroom sobbing, she ultimately shrieks, “If you want me to choose [between you and the man I love], of course I choose my family! Of course!”

The problem is, she arrives at this “of course” too easily.

We never see an inner journey, just comic noodlings. Noorbakhsh offers no true insights into a family dilemma that is universal, one that we’re hungry to see and laugh at with recognition and rue in our current, polarized society.

But despite contrived efforts to place her story within the context of post-9/11 by including Bush-era newscasts about Iran, and showing Dad ranting at the TV as President George W. Bush pontificates, Noorbakhsh never really does reveal what it means to be a dutiful Muslim daughter with a nonbeliever, non-Middle Eastern boyfriend.

What she gives us instead are repetitious conversations and monologues, intermittently funny but superficial.

And it undermines her own persona and her topic that she portrays Duncan as an unremitting doofus.

Under W. Kamau Bell’s direction, Noorbakhsh is a confident performer, relaxed and spontaneous, cheerfully breaking the fourth wall at times and able to differentiate her characters physically and by accent, although unfortunately not by vocal tone.

But ultimately “All Atheists Are Muslim” is no more than what it purports to be: a thin comedy about a woman telling her old-world, religious parents that her boyfriend is her new roommate.

Amid the plethora of solo autobiographical shows these days, and our country’s worrisome ambivalence about Islam, it’s not enough.

THEATER REVIEW

All Atheists Are Muslim

Where: Stage Werx Theatre, 533 Sutter St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; closes Oct. 1

Tickets: $20

Contact: (510) 470-0333, www.ZahraComedy.com, www.brownpapertickets.com

About The Author

Jean Schiffman

Jean Schiffman

Bio:
Jean Schiffman is a freelance arts writer specializing in theatre. Some of her short stories and personal essays have been published in newspapers and small literary magazines. She is an occasional book copy editor and also has a background in stage acting. Her book “The Working Actor’s Toolkit” was published... more
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