AN AP ARTS REVIEW: A nuanced look at American family life
By JUSTIN GLANVILLE
Associated Press Writer
04-07-2004 10:55

NEW YORK (AP) ˜ Lately, Detroit has been the setting of choice for talesabout immigrant families and their struggles to assimilate.
It was the scene of Jeffrey Eugenides' terrific 2002 novel, "Middlesex,"about a Greek family navigating the 20th century's racial and generational tensions.

Now comes "Roar," playwright Betty Shamieh's equally sensitive look at afamily of Palestinian-Americans who choose the Motor City as a refuge fromtheir ravaged homeland. The production is on view at off-Broadway's ClurmanTheatre on Theatre Row.

Shamieh's sights aren't as widely focused as Eugenides', nor is herwriting as effortlessly fluid.

But she achieves nearly the same intimacy inher portrayal of a family struggling to reconcile its present with its past.

What better city than Detroit ˜ itself trying to shake off its industrialheritage in a high-tech age ˜ for that struggle to play out?

Like any assured storyteller, Shamieh makes do with the basics: some fullydrawn characters and lots of plot. But she also weaves a suspenseful thread of ambiguity through every scene, so that while you like everyone on stage,you're never quite certain of their motives.

Take Hala, a free-spirited singer who descends on her sister's staid homeafter leaving Kuwait. As portrayed by the gorgeous Annabella Sciorra, she's dangerous and nurturing at once: a role model for her sister's repressed daughter but a potential home-wrecker, too.

Those who know Sciorra only for her roles in such movies as "JungleFever," "Sam the Man" and "Reversal of Fortune" will be thrilled by her workhere. Slinking exotically through a middle-class interior of plaid sofas andwood paneling, she conveys exactly the unpredictable energy necessary to setthe plot in motion.

It doesn't hurt that her figure-flattering costumes by Mattie Ullrichclash perfectly with Beowulf Borritt's beautiful shambles of a set. Everytime Sciorra perches languorously on the family's plastic-covered sofa, cladin some revealing top or satiny nightgown, the contrast is enough to inspirechuckles.

Sciorra is matched by Sherri Eldin, who is selfish yet fragile as theteenage daughter. Her delightfully accurate Rust Belt accent ˜ sharp A's,compressed O's˜ goes a long way toward giving the production a sense of place.

Still, "Roar" could survive even a less meticulously detaile production.Shamieh's play isn't just a story of Palestinian-Americans in Detroit; it's an unsentimental look at family life in all its frustrating complexity.