Chicago Theater Review: INANA (TimeLine Theatre)

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by Lawrence Bommer on May 15, 2015

in Theater-Chicago

LIVING A LEGACY

At this very moment Islamic State terrorists are on the brink of invading–and possibly destroying–the ancient Roman capital of Palmyra. Loathing any past but their present, their campaign of desecration and vandalism across Ninevah and Mosul, Iraq, as well as precious sites in Syria, echoes the culture rape of the distant Mongols. It also mirrors looting as recent as a dozen years ago. Similar crimes against culture and harm against history occurred during another “fog of war,” exacerbated by the heedless American occupation that followed the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

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Nowadays barbarians seem always at the gates. Endangered antiquities, specifically the last remaining statue of a Mesopotamian fertility goddess named Inana (better known as Ishtar), are center stage in TimeLine Theatre’s burning Chicago premiere of Michele Lowe’s improbable love story. Well, love is a kind of legacy–and the rare statue must remain where it was created or Iraq will be cursed forever. (Dismissing destruction, the war-monger Donald Rumsfeld put it differently: “Stuff happens.”) So, yes, this resonant 90-minute slice of life and art takes place during a very seminal honeymoon. Inana–and her modern incarnation–must be saved.

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Richly mined by Kimberly Senior and framed by Collette Pollard’s sandbagged set, Lowe’s thinking 2009 romance, commissioned by the Denver Theatre Center, is set on February 4, 2003, in a London hotel where Yasin Shalid (a driven Demetrios Troy), chief of the Mosul Museum, has brought his reluctant new wife Shali (Atra Asdou, lovely and complex). Shali doesn’t know that they can never return to their ravaged homeland. Because “objects are part of the people,” the pursuit of the “authentic,” both in art and life, has brought Yasin to the British Museum–and he comes with a treasure trove of 6,793 catalogue cards detailing the looted splendors of ancient Babylon, Sumeria and Assyria.

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Terse and vibrant flashbacks introduce us to Yasin’s first wife Hama (Arya Daire, passionately present); Yasin’s book-loving, Shakespeare quoting conservator Abdel-Hakim Taliq (an urgent Frank Sawa); Dominic Croft (Michael B. Woods), Yasin’s British bulldog of a colleague; and Mohammed Zara (Behzad Dabu, brave as any soldier), a curator who knows where to find protective faults for fragile art. We discover that a date can depend on, well, a date.

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We also learn how 32-year-old Shali is in many ways (literally and emotionally) the personification of the one-armed Inana. She’s also a victim of Saddam Hussein’s vicious son. Hinging on her marriage to Yasid is a daring scheme hatched by her husband and her father Emad Al-Bayit (esteemed actor Anish Jethmalani), an art forger obsessed with Matisse and willing (for a mere four million dinars) to use his forbidden talents to rescue ancient marvels.

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Apart from the prevention of plunder and the intrigue of disappearing idols, Lowe’s love story captivates our curiosity.  The scenes where Shali comes to understand her arranged husband–and how his devotion to her is part of his pride in Iraq’s past–are exquisitely nuanced. In this modern Pygmalion and Galatea, Shali comes to incarnate the body and soul of an exiled Inana. The deal that saves the statue works wonderfully, both as metaphor and plot device. Few plays sort stuff out as satisfactorily as Inana. As with many plays from TimeLine Theatre, this is valuable make-believe, reminding us that there are kindred souls among our supposed enemies.

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photos by Lara Goetsch

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Inana
TimeLine Theatre
615 W. Wellington Ave.
ends on July 26, 2015
for tickets, call 773.281.8463 or visit www.timelinetheatre.com

for more info on Chicago Theater, visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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