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Open: 03/27/14- Close: 03/30/14 Burq Off!
Reviewed for By: Heather Violanti

Sometimes, catharsis--that purgation of emotion Aristotle argued is the essence of complete dramatic action—happens offstage as well as on.

It happened this Friday. 

At the curtain call for her biographical one woman show Burq Off, Nadia P. Manzoor bowed before an audience that both cheered and cried.  They were moved by the poignant and raucous memoir they had just witnessed unfold.  

In the play’s cathartic final moments, young Nadia discovered that while her strict Muslim father (Abbu) and brother (Khurram) love her, “they loved me for who I should be, not who I really was.”  So she walked out the front door into a new life…and wound up onstage telling her story.

Then life imitated art.  A slightly embarrassed looking man in a suitcoat crept onstage and handed Nadia a bouquet.

“The real life Abbu!”  she cried.  The man smiled and ran offstage.  The audience cheered louder.  A moment of real-life catharsis, for us (we learned Nadia patched things up with her father) and for them (a rift healed long ago).

Even without the metadrama, Burq Off is powerful stuff.   Incorporating theatrical ingenuity between scene transitions, director Tara Elliott has helped writer and performer Nadia P. Manzoor shape her coming-of-age story into a funny, heartfelt tour de force.  Skilled in street dance and stand-up, Manzoor is a vibrant, volatile presence, capable of shifting character in an instant.  Her shoulders stoop, and she’s her always-fretting mother.  She scowls, and suddenly she’s her angst-y twin brother. 

True, the story veers toward cliché—young woman rebels against strictly traditional family to find herself—but the brutal honesty of Manzoor’s writing and performance, the theatrical flourishes of Elliott’s direction and Mitchell Ost’s ingenious fabric set design, and the vibrant pulse of J.X. Randall’s sound design and original music elevate it above the typical. 

The piece is still rough.  The beginning, in particular, felt hampered by exposition and less-than-seamless-transitions between characters and scenes.  The juxtaposition of written word, choreography, and music could be better paced in places—as in the opening, when it was hard to hear Manzoor over the loud entrance music, or during some of the wonderful but overlong dance montages. It will be interesting to see how Burq Off develops—and what its final catharsis will be. 


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