Faith, acceptance and the value of personal connection are key themes in Laura Maria Censabella's Paradise, currently playing at the Matrix Theatre.
Dr Royston (Jeff Marlow,) a brilliant, disgraced scientist, is reduced to teaching biology at a run-down high school in the South Bronx. Yasmeen (the radiant Maral Milani), a hijabi-wearing Yemani-American student, is trying to maneuver her way through her senior year of high school while enmeshed in traditional Muslim values.
Maral Milani as Yasmeen in Paradise
Photo by Ed Krieger
Yasmeen is all faith...faith in her religion, her traditions, her culture, and even in Dr. Royston, a man who has lost all he has ever cared about and has no faith of his own. Yasmeen is filled with enthusiasm and passion as Royston ignites a love of science within her she never knew she had. While she respects and upholds her cultural traditions, she is also inspired, burning with desire to go to Columbia University and pursue her new dream. The conflicts she faces are all internal.
These two unlikely colleagues are brought together by a love of learning and a love of love itself, a desire to learn the hows and whys of love, the specific reasons behind loving. Royston has lost it all due to those inexplicable chemical urges in his brain that he has worked so hard to understand. Yasmeen wants to learn about the effects of love on the teenage brain, while at the same time being arranged to marry a stranger. A study in love is born and we watch as Dr. Royston and Yasmeen change and grow and blossom due to the personal connection they were both missing in their lives.
This compelling two-person play features beautifully-written, multi-dimensional characters who bloom through their connection with each other. The acting is top-notch, particularly Marlow, a veteran actor who fully commands the stage. Milani at times is a tad too intense, but once she relaxes, her portrayal is honest and extraordinarily moving. The actors have terrific chemistry so their eventual unlikely friendship feels real and earned.
Jeff Marlow as Dr. Royston in Paradise
Photo by Ed Krieger
The complex issues of value and faith and family and how much you can and should take for yourself, are both touching and thought-provoking, particularly in this climate of fear and hatred of the "other." Seeing this production on the eve of the horrific Muslim shooting in New Zealand makes the message of the play seem all the more vital.
Paradise plays through March 31 at the Matrix Theatre, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $35.
The Matrix Theatre is located at 7657 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90046.For tickets, call (323) 960-7724 or visit http://www.Plays411.com/Paradise.