Pop Goes Dad in Born Bad and Urge for Going
Father's Day won't hit for another couple months, but don't expect the daughters in debbie tucker green's Born Bad, at Soho Rep, and Mona Mansour's Urge for Going, at the Public, to break out the cake and balloons when it does. Though toxic mother-son relationships populate the stage (Oedipus, Hamlet, Ghosts, Long Day's Journey), tucker green and Mansour turn dark-adapted eyes to the shadowy territory of dad-and-daughter interactions. The patriarchs in these plays don't deserve a Hallmark card.
I can't say for certain that award-winning British playwright tucker green adores Thomas Hobbes, but his vision of life oozes into Born Bad, which is nasty, brutish, and quite short. On Mimi Lien's spare living-room set (carpet, wallpaper, a few chairs), characters arrive one by one, all of them seething. Perhaps the angriest is Dawta (Heather Alicia Simms), who first turns her rage on a cardigan-clad middle-aged woman. "If you actin' like a bitch, I'm a-call yu it," Dawta hisses. "If you lookin' like a bitch, I'm a-call yu it." The woman's steely response: "Call me mum."
Eventually the characters emerge as a family group—Dawta, Mum, Dad, Sister #1, Sister #2, Brother—and Dawta discloses the source of her wrath: abuse at the hands of her father. Her mother and youngest sister deny this accusation, her older one claims not to remember, and her brother challenges it with his own narrative. Her father remains silent.
It's a shame the revelation at the core of Born Bad is so stale and that tucker green chooses to resolve these multiple truths into a single, stable version of events. But her dialogue—an urban patois with Caribbean inflections, larded with repetition and uneasy rhyme—packs a wallop, and you're unlikely to see anything as emotionally searing onstage this season. Under Leah C. Gardiner's direction, this is a vicious little play—its ending promises no catharsis, no closure, no consolation. "You ent damaged," Sister #2 (a malevolent Crystal A. Dickinson) tells Dawta, "you're fucked."
Mansour's Urge for Going is a gentler piece, though it occurs in an even harsher setting: a Lebanese camp for Palestinian refugees. If Dawta recoils from her father's perverse intimacy, high school student Jamila (Tala Ashe) resents her father's distance. Adham (Ramsey Faragallah), once a professor of literature, has become defeated by circumstance and hampers his daughter's efforts to escape the camp via her baccalaureate exam.
Like other plays developed in the Public's Emerging Writers Group and presented in the Public Lab, Urge for Going has passages of fine writing, yet it doesn't seem ready for full production. There's an awkwardness to the exposition—concerning the characters and their political circumstance—and predictability to the arc. Mansour also struggles to assimilate her influences, including perhaps an unacknowledged André Aciman essay that also uses Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," which Jamila studies, to reflect on memory and exile.
Ashe makes a laudable effort, but her Jamila seems mostly a catalog of mannerisms. Director Hal Brooks does, though, elicit fine performances from Jacqueline Antaramian as her mother and Omid Abtahi as her brain-damaged brother. There's ample heart in this play, but it sure doesn't belong to Daddy.
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