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Pair’s relationship a microcosm of larger struggle

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — “Paloma” by Anne García-Romero is an ambitious and thought-provoking play celebrating its world premiere at the Wells Fargo Auditorium of the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Its story is as old as it is compelling — love that develops between two young people from different backgrounds, cultures, and religions.

“Paloma” is produced by Linda Lòpez McAlister and Camino Real Productions and directed by Gil Lazier.

Ibrahim Ahmed and Paloma Flores meet in a class on Muslim Spain at New York University. He is Muslim and his parents emigrated from Morocco. She is Catholic with parents from Puerto Rico. While reading passages from a translation of “Tawq al-Hamamah” (“El collar de la paloma,” “The Collar of Love”) by Ibn Hazm, an 11th-century Muslim treatise on love, they grow in attraction for each other. But they know their parents won’t approve of their relationship. Besides, Ibrahim wants to observe the book’s emphasis on chastity — much to Paloma’s annoyance.

The couple flies to Spain in hopes of recapturing the respectful co-existence among Muslims, Christians and Jews represented by medieval Moorish Spain. They are caught up in terrible violence, and Ibrahim is tried for a crime against Paloma. His lawyer is Jared Rabinowitz, an old friend and a Jew.

The characters are sympathetic, the acting strong and the intentions admirable, but the play’s impact might be more powerful if the narrative had been presented in a less fragmented way.

The play unfolds — nonlinearly — in 24 scenes in various settings in New York City and Spain between 2003 and 2005. Playwright García-Romero warns in her text that, “The scenes in this play must move swiftly,” but director Lazier has chosen to provide each scene with a title, date and location, and representative illustration in three projections on the stage backdrop.

Moreover, between scenes the actors arrange and rearrange chairs and tables to provide a minimal set for each. This takes time, and since some of the scenes are short, the scene shifting feels intrusive. It is a tribute to the play and the production that I wanted the scenes to continue, but the frequent interruptions tended to diminish the play’s strength.

Ron Weisberg does well playing Jared although the part is underwritten. Abraham Bueno Jallad and Lena Armstrong portray the doomed pair. Each is alluring, and they portray their growing attraction and frustration well. The playwright has a good ear for realistic speech (including four-letter words), and both Jallad and Armstrong present their dialogue naturally.

“Paloma” repeats at 8 tonight and Saturday, Aug. 4, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 5.

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