On Thanksgiving Day, 2003, George Bush Jr. snuck into Iraq under cover of night to serve the troops candied yams. No piece of theater can hold a candle to that Air Force One pilgrimage and subsequent photo-op. No Broadway musical or underground happening was ever staged so efficiently. The one-act miracle play was a PR coup, and a breadbasket punch to Jihadists the world over.
Toad City's Rumi is a play that fights for sanity, but fails in a world gone insane. The medieval Sufi play is a collection of stories, some bawdy, some divine, that attempt to make sense of man's sex-crazed, brutal, and brilliant place in nature. The fables take place in a legendary Arab world where Mohammed himself walked with the animals and spoke with God. American audiences could be well-served by Rumi's un-Puritanical pictures of carnal love and earthly delights, but a simple staging of the translated text plays like a New Age pep-rally, complete with fabric store turbans and syrupy synthesizers.
Talented director Lorraine Bahr misguides the young cast by staging the text superficially straight. Though the poet Rumi was born in Afghanistan and wrote about the then-idyllic, now decimated holy cities of the Middle East, the play shies away from any ironic critique of the subject matter. In a time when Americans know little of Arab culture beyond Fascist propaganda, a jolt of thoughtful and poetic verse shouldn't be diluted by actors putting on ambiguous accents and mugging for the audience. Where the play could be teased for its blatant sexism (rape and polygamy are taken for granted), the sex-swaps and seductions are treated with Three's Company farcical hijinx. A traditional, religiously disciplined production of Rumi could have amazed audiences with its universal soul, but this loosely translated, goofed-up play all but saps the text of its potential impact.
Rumi's saving grace is its unashamed horniness. Pack the hookah and take your uptight theater snob date to Rumi, and the charmingly sexy actors will give a buttery dose of sexual healing. If it's savage irony and epic war tales you crave, stay at home and watch FOX News. TOUSSAINT PERRAULT