Theater

The Verdict on Rattlestick Theater’s Shesh Yak? Syria Killer.

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Two men from Syria share tea and gossip in a New York apartment, reminiscing about the best shawarma in Damascus and debating the future of the Syrian uprising. But in Laith Nakli’s Shesh Yak — a dark two-hander directed by Bruce McCarty now playing at Rattlestick — appearances are deceiving. We soon learn that these men are not the friendly acquaintances they seem to be, and that something bigger than nostalgia is at stake.

Watching the play, you might wish Nakli had deceived you a little longer. When Jameel (Zarif Kabier), a thirtysomething Syrian who came to the U.S. as a teen, welcomes the older Haytham (played by Nakli himself) to his home, it’s a little too apparent that the men have a hidden past. They begin playing backgammon (the play’s Arabic title refers to an advantageous roll of the dice) — but the game devolves awfully quickly into interrogation and confession, as long-
suppressed traumas rise inexorably to the surface.

The men’s intertwined pasts speak to the Syrian civil war’s deep and tangled roots and to the painful choices
nationalist loyalties require. Unfortunately, Nakli’s playwriting undermines his narrative’s subtleties, eliminating any surprises the drama might offer in favor of a plodding,
exposition-heavy march through a painful past. Syria’s
conflict has a fascinating history, and it deserves better
dramatization than this.