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One-woman play a gripping tale of Syrian refugee

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After a performance of “Not My Revolution,” now playing at Fusion Theatre, writer/actor Elizabeth Huffman poignantly expressed her sense of frustration and helplessness regarding the refugee crisis in Syria and elsewhere. “I didn’t know what to do, but I had to do something – I have family over there – and so I created this play.”

Huffman captures brilliantly the awful experience of being trapped in a country where the language is unfamiliar before the play proper even begins. She wanders disheveled and dirty into the theater from outside, pushing her cart and pleading for help. As it happened, she came right up to me speaking French. The desperation was unmistakable, but I had no idea what she was saying. Many in the audience assumed a homeless person had entered the theater and were shocked and appalled.

“Not My Revolution” is a one-woman show chronicling the rise and fall of a once wealthy Syrian woman now stranded without resources in a refugee camp in Istanbul. The first 10 minutes of the play are silent, as we watch the homeless woman prepare her makeshift shelter and clean herself up as best she can.

The play eventually veers back and we see the unnamed woman in happier times, as she marries into a powerful and wealthy Syrian family, runs a fashionable art gallery, and in every way is seen living the good life. But things take a turn when she and her husband get caught in the Arab Spring in 2011. Before long, her husband is dead and she is separated from her children, penniless in a squat in Istanbul.

The play is mutifocused in that it shifts back and forth between Syria and Turkey in 2011 and revolutionary France in 1793. Huffman plays not only the Syrian refugee but also Marie Antoinette. Just as the Austrian Archduchess received a cold welcome in France after her marital alliance with the future King Louis XVI, so the Syrian protagonist is not accepted by her powerful in-laws who rebuff her totally after their son’s death. Clearly, the playwright sees a parallel between the two privileged women destroyed in the cataclysm of a particular historical moment.

Six large paintings cover the entire rear of the stage and are gradually undraped as the play proceeds, each one communicating something different about where we are in this journey through Dante’s inferno. The paintings also serve as a fragmented screen for occasional video projections – sometimes of a refugee camp and at other times of the 18th century French court in all its ostentatious splendor.

Huffman is completely believable as a Syrian refugee utterly devastated by events. Her dialect is impeccable, but even more important, she communicates the terror of a victim caught up in events beyond her control with complete conviction and verisimilitude.

The show is intelligently directed by Laurie Thomas, who keeps Huffman’s character busy with little tasks throughout: an image of pure nervous energy. An accomplished actress, Huffman will be performing this moving and powerful play all over the world. Albuquerque is fortunate to host the national premiere.

“Not My Revolution” is playing at The Cell, 700 First NW, Albuquerque, through today. Go to fusionnm.org or call 766-9412 to make reservations.

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