Bay Area Theater Review: FALLACI (Berkeley Rep)

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by Tony Frankel on March 18, 2013

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

AN APPETIZER FOR THE REAL LIFE OF ORIANA FALLACI

At the top of Berkeley Repertory Theater’s Fallaci, Italian opera soars as the chiaroscuro image of Oriana Fallaci is illuminated by only her cigarette lighter. It is a fitting introduction to a play which sheds light on a character but fails to fully illuminate the life of this real Italian journalist, acclaimed for war reporting and interviewing dictators, and known for being extremely critical of Islam after 9/11. Though many themes are touched upon in Fallaci, it is her fascinating life itself and the vibrant and unashamedly honest portrayal by Concetta Tomei that are the major draws of the play.

Erin Kahout's Stage and Cinema review of FALLACI at Berkeley Rep

The second role is Maryam (Marjan Neshat), a green but tenacious Muslim reporter who finagles her way into Oriana’s home to interview her. Maryam is pliable in the first act, intently absorbing the thoughts of her journalistic hero, but as the play continues – and she interviews Oriana three years later – she becomes more confident in her own morally conservative, Muslim beliefs. She clashes with Oriana’s dramatic persona, Western ideals, and romanticized view of reality.

Erin Kahout's Stage and Cinema review of FALLACI at Berkeley Rep

Oriana tells Maryam that she must be willing to “destroy” whomever she is interviewing in the search for “truth.” At first, Oriana is a jaded, chain-smoking, begrudging mentor to Maryam, but as Maryam becomes more confident, Oriana becomes more vulnerable. Maryam then questions Oriana’s brutal reporting tactics and suggests she is promoting herself or seeking to gain vindication against powerful men through her writing. Oriana’s answer is that her sole motivation is to fight anyone who opposes life, including dictators who tyrannize their people and religious fanatics who oppress women.

Erin Kahout's Stage and Cinema review of FALLACI at Berkeley Rep

Provocative questions arise – What constitutes a strong woman? What makes a powerful journalist? – but don’t become the focus of Lawrence Wright’s play. Here, the dramatic, captivating, opinionated, and, at times, wry character of Oriana Fallaci is the thing. A dramaturgical cross between journalism and fiction, Fallaci is an interesting introduction to the life of the actual woman, but her real life exploits detailed in this world premiere prove more intriguing than the play’s construction, which ultimately rivals an in-depth nightly news interview.

Erin Kahout's Stage and Cinema review of FALLACI at Berkeley Rep

Though the play is not wildly captivating, the complex characters in Fallaci mesmerize as Wright, a reporter himself, explores the inescapable feminist undertones of their careers and relationship. The tit for tat between the characters proves amusing because Oriana does not sugar coat her opinions and often shocks Maryam; both women flex their journalistic muscles to uncover sordid and painful details from each other’s pasts. The women are supposedly equals by the end of the play, but Maryam still felt like a supporting character (Neshat does her best, but it is Tomei who steals focus with a far more showy role).

Erin Kahout's Stage and Cinema review of FALLACI at Berkeley Rep

Fallaci’s design team represents the transitions of time and character well, following the lead of director Oskar Eustis’ attention to detail. From the use of opera as a leitmotif for Oriana’s animated character to heavy rain during the confrontational second interview, Acme Sound Partner’s sound design sprinkled the play with subtle, realistic, emotion-stirring sounds. Michael Chybowski’s lights added visual drama and depth; along with Scenic Designer Robin Wagner and Costume Designer Jess Goldstein, he created an amazing, stark image for the last act, which would rival the drama of a Shakespearian tragedy.

photos by kevinberne.com

Fallaci
Berkeley Repertory Theater
scheduled to end April 21, 2013
for tickets, call (510) 647-2949 or visit http://www.berkeleyrep.org

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Katrin March 27, 2013 at 2:00 pm

I would like to add to this review the Iranian fictional character in the play (Maryam) is a collage of many different social diversities of Iran. The character was not convincing at all to me. I was born in Iran in 1971, and lived there ’til 1992 experiencing the time period that Maryam grew up in. Maryam’s family doesn’t represent a leftist’s family in Iran. The image of Maryam’s father (forcing his daughter to a marriage with a cousin who lost his arm in the war, beating his wife, etc.) is more like Islamic fanatics who are not the majority in Iran. Leftists were more intellectual. Maryam’s defense of Islam was not convincing to me either. Iran is a hot subject for writers these days and, perhaps, including an Iranian character helps any play to sell better! But it doesn’t help the audience to have a real image of a 40-year-old Iranian woman today.

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Katrin March 28, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Oops! I meant “collage” and not “colleague”! Sorry!

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