This review of Irene Kapustina's Lost & Guided at Under St. Mark's Theater was written by Christopher M. Struck and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Lost & Guided
Written & Directed by Irene Kapustina
Assistant Director: Alexandra Kattan
Costume, Set & Lighting Design by Wesley Cornwell
Sound Design by Adam Cuthbert
Stage Management by Sabrina Morabito
Under St. Mark's Theater
94 St. Mark's Place
New York, New York 10009
Lost & Guided has an intriguing concept for a play. Set amidst the onset of violence in Syria's Civil War, it follows the fates of two families connected through best friends Amina (Mischa Ipp) and Rima (Mouna R'miki). While relying perhaps too heavily on the classic idea of how civil war or war, in general, can tear apart families and ruin lives, the play does synthesize the emotions of the characters through good acting and an engaging script. These factors allowed the play to capture both the naive hope, in the early days, of positive changes being made to the government and the devastating effects the war would later have on the citizens of the country.
Despite a plethora of moments of clarity that created intense emotional drama, there were some aspects of the play that made it difficult to follow. One of the problems was a convoluted story arc. Most likely meant to draw attention to how lives are altered by the onset of war as mentioned earlier, I felt like none of the featured characters became an early focal point. This made it hard to catch the main storyline, but it did provide for interesting dialogue that was partially a guise for the delivery of a deluge of information.
The first scene in the play shows a conversation between Rima and Amina discussing husbands. Mouna R'miki as Rima was an awesome ball of passion that dominated the opening wonderfully. "I do not love him!" Rima exclaimed before launching into a twister-like tirade across the exquisite stage with a delicate balance of grace and verve. "He's so quiet" she would say about her husband while being her loud and obnoxious self and describing her own character as the worst thing about her personality. It was pretty funny, but beside her, Amina seemed to be merely a person with a pulse for Rima to talk to. Even though this scene seemed like a big deal, most if it didn't really factor into the main elements of the story. The most important part was the return of Imad and Sami (Rima's brother) with news. Even though he just got engaged to Amina, Imad accepted a position in a hospital in New Orleans.
Retrospectively, this might have been given a more prominent position in the unfolding of the story. The news could have been broken at the beginning of the scene and then Rima could have consoled Amina while lambasting her own husband. However, it came at the end somewhat disguising the fact that Imad takes the central role in the story powered by Doga Celik's superb performance. While Imad is in New Orleans adapting and adjusting to American life (quite comically at points), the Syrian Civil War breaks out and begins to tear apart his family back home. All he can do is stay in contact through Whatsapp hearing intermittent news from Sami, who works as a star doctor in a hospital, and Amina, who plans to escape with Rima as a refugee to Jordan. Imad is left powerless complaining, "I'm a man. I should do something," but he can't even tell his fiancee he misses her because she starts to cry. His biggest issue is being able to sound surprised and enthusiastic when colleagues tell him interesting news while at home bombs begin to become a constant threat. At first, Sami, played by the solid Shayan Sobhian, joyously discussed the pro-Democracy marches, but quickly the news starts to sour when Rima's husband is taken off to fight for Assad's army.
The other major difficulty in following the storyline was in the structure of the cast. Three of the seven actors played strange bit roles that mostly didn't require talking. These roles came in between major talking parts like commercials between different segments of the show. For example, immediately after Imad delivers his news about going to America, Jarrod Zayas, as an officer, chases, and mimes the killing of Alexandra Kattan, who plays a student. By mimicking hand movements on one side of the stage while Alexandra twisted and turned on the other side of the stage, Jarrod could act out more violent gestures, but it seemed a little awkward as the audience had no context for the interaction. Sami explained later when he told Imad over Whatsapp that students had been delivered to their parents dead. I am not sure if these scenes were added to make the situation seem more dire and violent, but it may have required more building up for the sake of comprehension. Susan Cohen Destefano also joined these in between segues dressed in a nun's habit and usually appeared only when death struck.
Regardless of these factors, the narrative became engrossing as the toll of the war became more and more apparent. I was deeply moved by the ultimate fate of the main characters in the play. Amina walked to Jordan for 10 hours, and Rima, who didn't leave, died in a bombing raid. Amina rested on her backpack mid-stage while Rima's body crashed to the floor in the back. Meanwhile, Sami safely rested up against the wall having just told Imad he was hiding under a support beam. When he goes to help an injured rebel left for dead, she cries out and a guard (Jarrod Zayas) kills them both. The two actors lay side by side after Sami sends out one last message to be received by Imad in America. Safe in America, Imad goes to pray.
There were a lot of positive aspects to Lost & Guided, but the story arc and the silent segues did make it difficult to follow. I would recommend this play for its timeliness and gritty nature. Doga Celik and Mouna R'miki stood out for their passionate performances as Imad and Rima. The cast as a whole brought a human face to a faraway war that now resonates for me more emotionally than it did before watching the play. For that, Lost & Guided deserves praise as does writer-director Irene Kapustina for writing the script after conducting interviews with Syrian refugees living in the United States. I hope you get a chance to enjoy it while it is at Under St. Mark's Theater through August 25, 2017. Tickets for $20.00 can be found on www.lostandguided.com or by calling 1-800-901-7173.