Review: “Unveiled” @ Victory Gardens

Playwright and performer Rohina Malik in “Unveiled”

Faith is a deeply personal thing. But what if your faith also manifests itself in the clothing you wear, making you immediately stand out as a symbol for something different, posing a risk to you and your loved ones?

The hijab — the head wrap many Muslim women wear — is a deeply personal commitment, demonstrating their obedience to God. In Unveiled, presented by Victory Gardens Fresh Squeezed in association with 16th Street Theatre, playwright and performer Rohina Malik tells the tale of five different American Muslim women who’ve each faced life-threatening challenges living in a post 9/11 society for choosing to wear the unique head wrap.

There’s a sassy dressmaker living on Devon street who tells the story of being physically assaulted on her way to her sister’s wedding, an empathetic lawyer who, in an attempt to connect with her client, reveals the horrific violence that befell her and her husband, an African American Muslim convert (or “revert,” as she maintains) who is forced to remove her hijab for fear of being assaulted, a London rapper who wears her hijab out of solidarity for her Muslim sisters, and a western Chicago suburbs restaurant owner who recalls how she found her inner strength by confronting an attacker in front of her child’s school.

Malik, who embodies all these women, is a dynamic and immediately likable performer. She tells a story with focus and purpose, avoiding flashy theatrics and cheap emotion. (However, she may have benefited from a brief pause now and then — her pacing was a bit rushed.) Never do her stories seem angry or bitter — though the women she portrays have every right to be, considering the ignorance they face on a daily basis. You also learn a lot from each monologue, from what constitutes good tea (we’re told it’s boiled, not steeped) to clothing to wedding traditions (I like the wedding custom of “the hiding of the groom’s shoes.”)

As compelling as this 70-minute show is, I do think the show’s structure makes the monologues come off a bit one-dimensional. The messages overpower the story, where you are more focused on the circumstance than the character telling it. And the moment you really start to connect to a character, Malik has adopted a new persona. Also, someone was falling asleep behind the light board yesterday, with many delayed cues. Malik was even forced to take her curtain call on a dark stage. For shame.

However, I left the Richard Christiansen Theatre with a better understanding about Muslim faith and I look forward to Malik’s next venture. She’s a unique and compelling voice. Lucky for us, her bio says she’s working on her third full-length play.

“Unveiled” plays through April 4 at the Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theatre. More information here >

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