SALT LAKE CITY, UT (Gephardt Daily), Jan. 29, 2023 — Pioneer Theater Company’s world premiere of “A Distinct Society” takes place at the Haskell Free Library and Opera House. Province (Vermont) and Canada (Quebec). At least in the staged version of the real-world library, guests may appear, so there’s even a faded floor line to mark its boundaries.
And that border, along with the political and personal boundaries of the characters, fuels a rich and beautifully told story that can both uplift and heartbreak audience members.
The 95-minute play is by playwright Kareem Fahmy, who visited the Pioneer Theater last April and directed the sensitive and moving piece “Fireflies.”
Farmie set up a “peculiar society” a few years ago during the so-called Muslim ban. This started when then-President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning travelers from his six predominantly Muslim countries.
In Fahmy’s play, an Iranian father (Abdullah Khalil as Peyman) thinks he found a way to meet his daughter (Vane Asoudarian as Shirin) if they meet in a library across the border. Both are unwell and struggling, and the need to meet is felt urgent.
Khalil is perfect as the gentle and kind Payman, a loving father who sees his family as his true home. As Vaneh who entered the United States is multifaceted.
Manon (played by Carrie Puff), a librarian who loves opera and feels protective of everyone who enters the library from both sides of the border, stands nearly the entire stage. She lets Puff melt into her role and make you forget she’s acting.
Born and raised in Quebec, charming and awkward Manon is hesitant about the frivolous attention of US Border Patrol Bruce (Corey Jones)… French from an elegant librarian.
Rounding out the cast is Irish-born 15-year-old Declan (actor Emmett Smith) (minus the accent) who moved to Quebec with his parents before his father left and is teased by his Quebec classmates. Smith is compelling as an emotional, impulsive young man who, like all the characters in the play, really craves human connection.
Every character has their own “baggage” and a set of boundaries they may or may not cross to pursue their desires.
Fahmy’s script shows how much personal and political boundaries can wreak havoc on five perfect figures. Each new character revelation adds depth to the story and impacts the ending.
“A Distinct Society” is gentle yet powerful. Anyone who enjoys subtle and meaningful theatrics, a mix of drama and joy, should see this show.Director Giovanna Sardelli and designer Joe Winialski all made the right choices.
“A Distinct Society” runs Monday through Saturday at the Pioneer Theater through February 11th. Shows are Monday through Thursday at 7:00 PM, Fridays at 7:30 PM, and Saturdays at 2:00 PM and 7:30 PM. An ASL-interpreted show will be staged on February 11th at 2pm. This show contains adult language.
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