Territories

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Through Feb. 10th. Tickets are $20-$45; call 441-8822 or visit www.magictheatre.org.
Magic Theatre, Fort Mason Center (Marina and Buchanan), S.F.

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Set during the Crusades and based on much conjecture, Betty Shamieh's play tells the story of a Muslim woman who changed the course of history. Alia (Nora el Samahy), a beautiful yet crippled noblewoman, is forced to employ the strategic manipulation of language and sex in the face of the inaction of two influential men who command opposing armies. Shamieh's dialogue veers between classical ("Get me their dirty prophet's bones") and crude modernism ("Do you have the balls to invade Mecca?"), which confuses the play's tone. Samahy does an admirable job playing her pivotal role with a buoyant energy reminiscent of Kate from The Taming of the Shrew, but it isn't enough. There is a depth of dialogue and essential chemistry between characters that is missing for an audience to fully buy into this plot. The final image of the strong and animated Alia smothered in the confines of a burka is devastating, and perfectly captures Shamieh's overarching theme of an unremembered woman guiding historical events. Unfortunately, this exquisite moment only reminds us of what Territories has the potential to be but doesn't quite deliver.

 
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