2017-11-08 / Features

APAC opens season with the world premiere of VEIL’D

BY CHARLES STANDISH


Sahar Bibiyan (Rhami, from left), Rajesh Bose (Amir), and Nikhaar Kishnani (Dima) are a family coping with a mysterious illness in the world premiere of "Veil'd" at APAC. 
Photo credits: Michael Dekker Sahar Bibiyan (Rhami, from left), Rajesh Bose (Amir), and Nikhaar Kishnani (Dima) are a family coping with a mysterious illness in the world premiere of "Veil'd" at APAC. Photo credits: Michael Dekker Astoria Performing Arts Center (APAC), winner of eight New York Innovative Theatre Awards — including Outstanding Musical Production for 2017’s Raisin — continues its 17-year tradition of bringing professional, original, and daring theater to NYC with the debut of Veil’d, a play by Monet Hurst-Mendoza.

APAC, which stages its shows at Good Shepherd United Methodist Church in Astoria, is home to the first full production of Veil’d, a magical story of a teenage girl’s coming of age, and of the family and friends who encourage her to abandon her cloistered existence and embrace life. Directed by Pirronne Yousefzadeh, performances began on Nov. 2 and continue through Nov. 18.

Veil’d incorporates family drama, romance, and magical realism to tell an adult fairy tale about Dima (Nikhaar Kishnani), a 16-year-old with a rare medical condition that makes her unable to endure sunshine, forcing her to hide (in a discarded burqa) in her Brooklyn apartment. Her parents, Rhami (Sahar Bibiyan) and Amir (Rajesh Bose), fear that Dima will never lead the “normal” American teenage life they imagined for her when they emigrated from Afghanistan.

However, Dima’s inquisitiveness and passion for marine life lead her to make unlikely, secret friends: Elliot (Christopher Reed Brown), a street poet who introduces himself to Dima by way of paper airplanes aimed through her bedroom window, and Speedo (Kayla Jackmon), a shark, purchased online, who unsettles Dima’s world by revealing the ability to talk and, more importantly, listen. With their unconditional love of an unconventional girl, they give Dima the strength to shed the veil she hides behind – but will Dima take a chance, or remain locked in her tower? Rapunzel never had it this bad – or this good.

Hurst-Mendoza says, “Veil’d has always been special. The first draft of this play was written in college. It was my very first full-length play, so it’s poetic and fitting that … this play is my first full production in NYC and my first world premiere.” Asked about APAC, she adds, “I'm working with some of the most creative brains in town! The actors, the designers, the stage managing team, the APAC Staff and Pirronne are the dreamiest of dream teams!”

Yousefzadeh, who’s directed and developed theater at The Public Theater/Joe’s Pub, Ars Nova, and Soho Rep, among others, collaborated directly with Hurst-Mendoza to bring Veil’d’ to life. “I love working with the writer in the room, and with Monet it has been … a seamless and exciting exchange of ideas.” She says, “I think that the play is so relatable in that we’ve all felt like an ‘other’ or a freak in some way in our lives … Dima feels that in a very particular way, and I think we can all find a way in which we identify with her.”

Sahar Bibiyan (Rhami) agrees: “We are all Dima. We all have things we veil, cover, bury and have to overcome. We also have the same desires no matter where we are from. We have more in common than we think. And being different is beautiful.”

Despite the universality of Veil’d’s themes, Dev Bondarin, APAC’s artistic director, points out that “Dima has a specific story that must be told, and is a person about whom stories are not so often told. Veil’d changes that.”

This specificity appeals to Dima’s portrayer, Nikhaar Kishnani, as well: “I get to play a brown girl who never needs (and never feels the need) to comment on her brown-ness.”

Yousefzadeh agrees: “I love that this play centers around a Middle Eastern family without the focus being on their Middle Eastern-ness.”

Veil’d looks to be the start of another season of high-quality theater from APAC, continuing in February with a reading series, Intersecting Identities, and in May with a production of the legendary musical Follies by James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim – which may well be APAC’s most ambitious musical production yet in a season poised to live up to the New York Times’ description of the company as “adventurous theater in Astoria.”

Veil’d runs through Nov. 18 at Astoria Performing Arts Center. Tickets can be purchased at http://bit.ly/APACVeild, by calling 718-706- 5750, or in person at the box office one hour prior to showtime. More information about Veil’d and the rest of APAC’s season can be found at www.apacny.org.

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