LOGAN – “Dreaming American” is a tough-minded drama highlighting not only the dissonance between U.S. and Egyptian cultures but also the potential gulf between the American Dream and the immigrant experience.
The world premiere of the original two-act play by Paul T. Mitri, the new artistic producer of the Lyric Repertory Company, was staged Thursday at the Morgan Theatre on the campus of Utah State University.
It seems likely that Mitri chose an Egyptian as his immigrant everyman because he is familiar with that culture and identifies with its people after having taught as a professor at the American University in Cairo.
Perhaps that’s also why “Dreaming American” has a slightly schizophrenic undertone, since all the Egyptians in the play are multi-dimensional, fully developed characters while all the Americans are stereotypes and unpleasant ones at that.
Those ugly Americans allow Mitri to put his Egyptian protagonist through the wringer of all the worst possible experiences as he pursues the American Dream, including bureaucratic indifference, cultural isolation, academic failure, career frustration, divorce, bankruptcy and failing mental health. Poor immigrant Khairi Gobran is a stranger in a strange land who just can’t catch a break.
Mitri’s small-cast show is fast-paced and well- written, lightening Gobran’s woes with healthy doses of grim humor.
While the improbable string of misfortunes that befall the Egyptian immigrant make “Dreaming American” a little heavy handed and preachy, the play never stoops to actually beating the audience over the head with its message. Instead, the drama allows them to walk away with whatever lessons they choose to accept.
Owais Ahmed is superb as the immigrant Gobran. His interpretation of the seemingly cursed character is both convincing and likeable as he reacts to the reprise of all the trials of Job over six decades with a realistic blend of bemusement, indignation and resignation.
Screen Actors Guild artist Nicky Boulos spins like a top, playing every other male character in “American Dreaming.” Boulos changes roles at the drop of a hat, but never fails to make each of them distinctly different in mannerisms and speech patterns.
USU’s young Cat Evangelho effortlessly performs the same trick for the play’s female characters, ranging from impersonal flight attendants to ditzy online dates. As always, her deft stage work is a pleasure to watch.
Despite the versatility of those three performers, “Dreaming American” is obviously intended as a cautionary tale rather than a vehicle to showcase the talents of its cast. For Mitri’s unlucky immigrant, that lesson is that a happy ending was never in the cards.
Performances of “Dreaming American” will continue at the Morgan Theatre on June 26 and July 7, 10 and 16.