Veils Through June 20; Thursday-Saturday, 7 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; $20-$25. Onyx Theatre, 702-732-7225.
Veils is a delicate play set against a violent backdrop. In the fall of 2010, Intisar (Jay Lindo) goes to university in Egypt. A devout Muslim who’s never without her modest hijab, she’s paired with Samar (Natalie Senecal), a thoroughly modern Muslim who doesn’t wear a veil and rebels against Egypt’s creeping conservatism. Their contentious relationship plays out amid increasing civic unrest, culminating in the events of the Arab Spring.
As they get to know each other, the dialogue by playwright Tom Coash sometimes comes off like the characters are just mouthpieces for a debate, lending certain moments a didactic, abstract tone that can feel like a lecture. But that never capsizes the play completely. And under Sarah O’Connell’s nuanced and respectful directing, the material never becomes too polemical, staying grounded in the story of the women.
In addition to directing, O’Connell also designed the set. It was both clever and a little clunky, with certain transitions bogging down, and equipment not quite working right the night I saw it.
For their part, Lindo and Senecal crafted two fully realized characters, and watching them push and pull against each other is delightful. An early scene where Senecal’s Samar harangues Lindo’s Inti to loosen up and start a video blog about her experiences in Egypt (so Samar can advance her journalistic dreams by featuring it on her blog) had a freshness and lightness to it, an energy that slowly darkens through the play as events became more dire. If certain scenes felt laden with dialogue and situations meant solely to advance the themes of the show, the women still kept an emotional tie. And in scenes where they were freed from being avatars for cultural battles they relaxed into their roles, bringing them to vibrant life, making their final understanding and goodbye that much more poignant.
Veils asks audiences to take a trip inside a culture that many view with intolerance and suspicion—led by two female, minority actresses. This is a journey you will almost never find in theater—which can be a very white, male, Western affair—but it’s one worth taking.