Geo-political and religious implications abound in Theresa Rebeck’s world premiere play Zealot. An American diplomat is locked in a fierce battle with a British diplomat over the fate of a Muslim woman accused of committing heresy during the Hajj in Saudi Arabia.
But while issues of faith, convoluted history, and diplomatic maneuvering in a powder keg region certainly factor into Rebeck’s taut, engrossing tale, she is more concerned with exploring the less explosive, but just as lethal, issue of female empowerment.
And while the play may seem a bit too polemical at times for the Tom Leykis crowd, Rebeck’s enormous talent provides a compelling dramatic narrative. And part of that talent is creating characters with starkly different ideas that all, at some point, seem right.
Unfortunately, everyone is so right, from the young Muslim Marina (Nikki Massoud), who believes that women should stand up against patriarchal oppression, to Usama (Demosthenes Chrysan), a Muslim cleric determined to arrest her because she has broken the law, that a fustercluck ensues, with no easy solution in sight.
Alan Smyth as Edgar, the career British diplomat who understands the Saudis far more than the interloping American diplomat, Ann (Charlayne Woodard), delivers a commanding performance. Edgar is as witty and dry as he is morally ambiguous and border-line contemptible. While Marina is the dramatic impetus, and Ann the moral compass, this is Edgar’s play, his actions and inactions raising the biggest questions in a work that provokes so many compelling ones.
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South Coast Repertory, 655 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa; through Nov. 16. (714) 708-5555, www.scr.org.
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