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Photo: Joan Marcus

PlaywrightsHorizons (Artistic Director Tim Sanford,Managing Director Leslie Marcus) presents the New York premiere of Noura, a new Americandrama from 9 Parts of Desire playwright and actor Heather Raffo,continuing her longtime collaboration with director Joanna SettleNovember27-December 30, in the Mainstage Theater at PlaywrightsHorizons (416 W 42nd St, New York, NY 10036). Produced in associationwith Shakespeare Theatre Company, Noura wasdeemed by The Washington Post the “best premiere of the Women’sVoices Theater Festival” when it made its world premiere in Washington,D.C. Noura isset in the home of its titular character, a former architect from Mosul. Sheand her husband now have a successful life in New York, and, eight years afterhaving fled their home in Iraq, they’ve finally gained citizenstatus—which Noura, as anIraqi Christian, is celebrating by planning the perfect Christmas dinner. But when the arrival of a visitor stirs up long-buried memories, Nouraand her husband are forced to confront the cost of their choices, and retrace the past they left behind. With compassion and startling clarity, Raffo’s play considers a woman’s options across two nations and exposes the fragility of the structures—nationalities,marriages, mores—in which we consider ourselves at home.

Heather Raffo (Playwrights Horizons: The Profane; other Off-Broadway: 9 Parts of DesireIn Darfur) gives an “impassioned” (The Washington Post), “brilliant” (Theatermania) performance as Noura, in a cast that includes Dahlia Azama (Veil’dI Call My Brothers) as Maryam, an Iraqi Christian refugee who fled ISIS, and is being sponsored by Noura and her husband in the United States; Liam Campora (“The Blacklist,” “Blue Bloods,” The Dictator) as Yazen/Alex, Noura’s son; Matthew David (GlampingA Streetcar Named DesireBoeing, Boeing) as Rafa’a, Noura’s childhood best friend from Mosul, an Iraqi Muslim OB-GYN living in New York; and Nabil Elouahabi (OsloA Tale of Two Cities, “The Night Of”) as Tareq/Tim, Noura’s physician husband, who longs to have a second child. (Nabil Elouahabi is appearing with the permission of Actors’ Equity Association. The Producers gratefully acknowledge Actors’ Equity Association for its assistance of this production.) The creative team includes Andrew Lieberman (scenic design), Tilly Grimes (costume design), Masha Tsimring (lighting design), Obadiah Eaves (sound design), and Laura Smith (Production Stage Manager).

Raffo was inspired to write Noura—whosetitle and certain themes nod to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House—after leading theaterworkshops with Middle Eastern women in New York and seeing the feminist drivein their responses to Ibsen’s play as well as their many harrowing stories ofleaving home. Raffo’s new play is the story of a woman’s restless mind pushingagainst the confines of her home life and her past.

Raffo was born in Michigan to an American mother and Iraqi Christian immigrant father from Mosul. At the start of the 2003 War, she had around 100 immediate family members living between Baghdad and Mosul. Over the last decade, particularly in the aftermath of ISIS overtaking Mosul in 2014, all but two have fled the country. In Noura, Raffo keenly explores the spiraling results of America’s invasive presence in Iraq, and Iraq’s presence in the American imagination—all from within the intimacy of a family home. Her characters are pulled as strongly by the American pursuit of rugged individualism as they are by their need to maintain a collective cultural identity.

The production of Noura exhibits the power of collaboration between two artists who have been in sync for 15 years. Raffo and Settle (Sky on Swings, TheTotal BentIn Darfur) began their collaboration and friendship with 9 Parts of Desire, first produced in 2003. Conceived between the First Gulf War and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and performed after the latter began, that play was an “impassioned theatrical documentary” (The New York Times) that offered a kaleidoscope of perspectives of contemporary Iraqi women characters—composites of women Raffo spent a decade interviewing throughout Iraq and its diaspora. (Incidentally, when Settle was a college student during the First Gulf War, she had moved to D.C. to interview people involved in the military—and their families—around that intervention, for her theatrical thesis project.) As 9 Parts of Desire made its way coast to coast across America over the course of two years, and as the war progressed, Raffo and Settle got to have pressing conversations with audiences—gauging the perceptions of the relationship between the U.S. and Iraq at every stop, reworking the play in each place.

Raffo says of her artistic and personal kinship with Settle, “Those conversations became so integral to our trusted intellectual relationship. That was when I had family members in Baghdad wondering if they were going to live and die in a war and through an occupation. Now my 100 family members are scattered across the world as refugees, and Joanna knows a lot of them. She danced with them at my wedding. And now she’s living and teaching in the Middle East [NYU Abu Dhabi]. The conversation has continued in how we each raised our kids; this in-depth way of understanding the stakes is very different than me coming in with a smart, kind, talented new director and saying, ‘here’s the history of my family and my people.’ Joanna lived the history with my family.”

Settle’s direction of Noura sensitivelymaterializes the psycho-emotional world Raffo creates in her script (which takesplace in the household of an architect and coalesces around her character’svivid mind). She says, “Heather and I have experienced so much together. I gotmarried, Heather got married; I got divorced, she stayed married. We’veexperienced loss. Creative choices are born out of intuition and instinct, andthe only thing I have to offer an audience is my subjective perspective.Heather and I have curated our subjective perspective together.”

Photo: Joan Marcus

Heather Raffo (Playwright; Noura/Nora). Raffo is an award-winning playwright and actress whose work has been seen Off-Broadway, in London, in regional theater, and in a film. Writing credits: Noura (Weissberger Award), 9 Parts of Desire (Lortel Award, Blackburn, Drama League, OCC, Helen Hayes nominations), Fallujah (librettist: NYC Opera, Long Beach Opera). Performing credits: The Profane (Playwrights). Other Off-Broadway: 9 Parts of Desire (Manhattan Ensemble Theater), Palace of the End (Epic Theater Ensemble), Food and Fadwa (NYTW), In Darfur (The Public), Macbeth (The Acting Co.), Over the River and Through the Woods (Houseman). Regional: 9 Parts of Desire (Arena, Geffen, Kennedy Center, Traverse, Bush). Film: Vino Veritas.

About Joanna Settle (Director)

Joanna Settle (Director). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: Heather Raffo’s Nine Parts of Desire (Manhattan Ensemble Theater, Geffen Playhouse, Berkeley Rep, and more); Stew/Rodewald’s The Total Bent,Winter Miller’s In Darfur, Suzan-Lori Parks’ 365 Days/365 Plays finale (The Public); Martha Graham Cracker’s Lashed But Not Leashed, Jaime Leonhart’s Estuary (Joe’s Pub). Regional: Noura (Shakespeare Theater Company, Abu Dhabi); Lembit Beecher’s Sky on Swings (Opera Philadelphia); Stew/Rodewald’s Family Album (Oregon Shakespeare Festival); Gina Gionfredo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn, Brandon Jacob-Jenkins’ An Octoroon (Wilma Theater). Settle is currently appointed to NYU Abu Dhabi as an Associate Arts Professor of Theater. 

About the Cast    

Dahlia Azama (Maryam). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: Veil’d (WP), I Call My Brothers (PlayCo). Regional: Noura (Shakespeare Theater Company). International: The School for Wives, Three Sisters, Taming of the Shrew (AUC, Egypt). Film/TV: “#WarGames.” Graduate Studies: The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama (London). Undergraduate Studies: The American University in Cairo (Egypt). Awards (Egypt): Winner of the Ahmed Zewail Prize for Excellence in the Sciences and Humanities. 

Liam Campora (Yazen/Alex). Playwrights debut. Broadway: Marvin’s Room (Roundabout). Film: The Dictator, The Black List. Portraying Yazen in Noura is a dream role and the pinnacle of Campora’s young theatrical career. He is also an accomplished dancer with a scholarship at Alvin Ailey.

Matthew David (Rafa’a). Playwrights debut. Off-Broadway: Glamping (East 13th Street Theatre). Regional: Noura (Shakespeare Theatre Company); A Streetcar Named DesireBoeing, Boeing, A Stone CarverEscanaba In Da’ MoonlightBest Of FriendsApartment 3A, Corktown, Bleeding Red, Consider The Oyster, Growing Pretty, White Buffalo (Purple Rose Theatre Company); American BuffaloDisgraced (Jewish Ensemble Theatre); Nuts (Vertigo Productions); Danny and the Deep Blue Sea, Much Ado About Nothing (Flint City Theatre). University of Michigan: BFA in Theater.

Nabil Elouahabi (Tareq/Tim). Playwrights debut. Regional: Noura (ShakespeareTheatre Company); U.K.: Another World: Losing Our Children to IslamicState (National Theatre); Fireworks (RoyalCourt); Crossing Jerusalem, The Great Game – Afghanistan (Tricycle); Oslo (HaroldPinter Theatre); Oil (Almeida); A Tale ofTwo Cities (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), andmore.Film: Zero Dark Thirty, Charlie Wilson’s War, In This World, Ali G Indahouse,The Sum of all Fears. Television: “Dark State,” “The NightOf,” and more. 

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