The Theater and Performance Studies (TAPS) department’s first in-person production since the pandemic, “As Soon As Impossible,” directed by TAPS Professor Samer Al-Saber, is a warm “Welcome Back!” to live performance at Stanford. The campus show is the play’s debut, and all Playwright Betty Samieh needs to tell a compelling story of love and forgiveness is a simple set-up of two trailers and four actors.
“As Soon As Impossible” features two best friends: Ramsey, an intelligent Arab-American professor, and Arthur, a hard-working “brawn over brains” WASP. Along with Arthur’s timid yet smart grandson Drew, they live together in neighboring trailers during the summer’s fishing season when they are unexpectedly greeted by Ramsey’s boisterous and unapologetic granddaughter Layla.
Though love bonds the characters in unspeakable ways, a heavy feeling of isolation weighs upon them all. Ramsey struggles ongoingly with the loss of his wife. Drew suffers the burden of hiding a facet of his identity, Layla desires immediate independence and Arthur grows suspicious of Ramsey — though unable to articulate the words aloud, he finds himself suspecting his best friend of being a terrorist. “As Soon As Impossible” makes us witnesses to the web of interactions the four characters have with each other but, more importantly, forces the audience to confront their loneliness. We understand Ramsey’s irreconcilable grief that no other character can aid; we see how Layla’s one-track plan to her idealized version of womanhood jeopardizes her welfare, we bear witness to the tension that a strong sense of resoluteness and self-awareness undermined by timidity and fear can have upon a person such as Drew and we ultimately see how Arthur’s unspoken stereotype-based suspicions can ruin even the closest of relationships.
In order to balance these emotionally heavy themes, Shamieh wittily embeds humor throughout the play, giving the audience room to laugh through the discomfort rather than turn away, to transform difficult topics into a light-hearted yet productive conversation. The play’s humor causes viewers to leave the show in uplifted spirits and with a greater resolution to address the core issues of our unjust society that are reflected in the play.
Shamieh brings her characters to life with dialogue that gives equal insight into what is deliberately unspoken. The conversations give the audience room to peer into the depths of each character, to sympathize with their hidden desires, fears, worries and motivations and to find pieces of themselves in each of the characters’ psyches. It leaves us wanting more — to follow the characters and see how their relationships grow after the play’s conclusion.
Professor of Drama and Classics Rush Rehm and esteemed actor Kal Naga playing Ramsey and Arthur are a sight to behold — their dynamic masterfully conveys the unlikely friendship between two older men of different backgrounds. Student actors Margarita Belle Jamero ’24 and Morgan Gwilym Tso ’22 bring the play to full completion. Jamero plays Layla wonderfully, creating a character with a burning desire for the center spotlight, evoking laughter from the audience with her witty dialogue. Tso masterfully portrays the timid yet strong-willed Drew, whose character (that albeit lacks the rambunctious verve of Layla’s), has strong stage presence and nonetheless brings the audience to a few tears (out of both laughter and sympathy). Credits must also be given to Scenic Design Lecturer Nina Ball, whose set in the Roble Arts Gymnasium had audience members “oo”-ing and “aah”-ing during set changes.
‘As Soon As Impossible’ is a must-see. With its striking balance between culturally relevant content and feel-good humor, it is a galvanizing start to the TAPS department’s return to live performances. The rest of the play’s performances run from Thursday to Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Harry J. Elam, Jr. Theater, located in Roble Gymnasium. Tickets can be purchased here.