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Language Rooms at The Wilma Theater


Language Rooms


The Wilma Theater continues its 2009 – 2010 season with the World Premiere production of Language Rooms, a dark comedy that exposes the divided loyalties among today’s immigrants, discovering the rising cost of the American Dream. The play, from rising Arab-American playwright Yussef El Guindi, is directed by the Wilma’s co-Artistic Director Blanka Zizka

 Language Rooms takes place in a secret U.S. dentition center in an unnamed country.  It tells the story of two young Arab –American interrogators Ahmed (Sevan Greene) and Nasser (J.Paul Nicholas) caught up in an interrogation of themselves, their doubts, fears, hostilities towards each other and their own inner feelings. 

Ahmed apparently believes he is living American Dream, successfully landing a big-time position as a translator. But things are not what they seem in this twisted workplace, as he soon finds himself dodging shifty video cameras and absurd interoffice mind games. Ahmed’s ambitions are called into question by his superior Kevin (Peter Jay Fernandez), who’s own personal paranoia and secrecy undermines the agenda of their mission. 

Director Blanka Zizka says, “What I like so much about the play is that it deals with the world we live in right now, without suffering from ideological or political agendas or predictability. Just the opposite: the play is fresh, inventive, darkly funny, and fiercely original. It explores the absurd reality that can ensue from pursuing a dream without noticing that the dream has lost its moral standing, leaving merely insistence on loyalty.” 

Yussef El Guindi, the Egyptian-born, Seattle-based playwright of Language Rooms, has seen significant regional and international success. He has had 15 plays produced since 2001 in regional theaters from Philadelphia to Anchorage, Alaska.  He was recently recognized by the American Theatre Critics Association with the 2009 Osborn New Play Award for an emerging playwright. 



While the intentions of the playwright may be clear, the play is certainty not without its flaws. The dialogue runs rampant with insulations, ramblings that explode into anger and frustration, almost like the popular television show The Office, gone bad. The two high strung Muslim interrogators get caught up in several entry level office boys squabbles that become as annoying to the audience as “two girls fighting over the last tampon,” which is the level of the humor in this production. 

Guindi’s idea of injecting humor simply falls flat.  Ahmed is accused of not being a team player by his boss because he is a no show for the center’s Super Bowl party and refuses to use the communal shower; hardly a laugh out loud moment. 

The condescending, accusatory dialog is only made worse by a bizarre scene with a chatty Cathy masseuse (Julienne Hanzelka Kim), who seems to know all about their “secret mission” as does the surprise visitor that appears in the scene. 

Language RoomsBy mid point Ahmed is forced to decide where his loyalties lie when a surprise detainee Samir (Nasser Faris) is brought to him for questioning.  It is a test of his personal loyalty versus his patriotism torn by doubt and self-hatred. Casting is strong for this strange, intriguing piece. 

Ola Maslik’s stark black and white sets provide an appropriate setting for an eerie, dark feeling. 

Language Rooms is a typical example of government bureaucracy gone wrong and where fantasy and reality are interchangeable; hardly a typical entertaining evening at the theater. 

The Wilma’s cast for Language Rooms is led by Sevan Greene as Ahmed. Greene has appeared Off-Broadway in the Lortel Award-winning Betrayed, which was also televised on PBS. 

J. Paul Nicholas returns to the Wilma in the role of Nasser. Nicholas was a member of the Wilma’s Barrymore Award-winning ensemble of Scorched last season. 

Peter Jay Fernandez plays Kevin. Fernandez has been seen on Broadway in Cyrano De BergeracJulius Caesar,Henry IVJelly’s Last Jam, and The Merchant of Venice.” 

Esther is played by Julienne Hanzelka Kim, who has appeared on Broadway in David Henry Hwang’s Golden Child.    

Nasser Faris completes the cast in the role of Samir. He has appeared in a recurring role on “24”, as well as guest star roles on “The Unit”, “Brothers and Sisters”, “The Shield”, “Sleeper Cell”, “JAG”, “NYPD Blue”, and “Malcolm in the Middle”.   

The design team for Language Rooms includes set designer Ola Maslik. Costume designer Janus Stefanowicz and sound and video designer Jorge Cousineau.   


Language Rooms Plays at the Wilma Theater, Broad Street, Phila. Pa  through April 4, 2010. Tickets range from $36 to $65, and are available at the Wilma’s Box Office by calling (215) 546-7842, visiting www.wilmatheater.org, or coming to the theater, located at 265 South Broad Street in Philadelphia. Student tickets are available for as little as $10, depending on date and time.


Photo (Right): Julienne Hanzelka Kim as Esther and Sevan Greene as Ahmed in the World Premiere of Yussef El Guindi’s Language Rooms at The Wilma Theater - image by: James Haskins

Photo (Left): Sevan Greene as Ahmed and J. Paul Nicholas as Nasser in the World Premiere of Yussef El Guindi’s Language Rooms at The Wilma Theater. - image by: James Haskins