"Mosque Alert" is, without a doubt, an ambitious production in both scope and agenda. Khoury's play takes us into the lives of three distinct suburban families with a richness and detail many playwrights would shy away from. At the same time, in carefully and unbiasedly portraying even the most despicable of characters, Khoury manages to further heighten this issue's relevance in 2016. "Mosque Alert" is a deeply political, deeply personal treatise on the state of Muslim-American relations in America. Presented with vigor from a talented and diverse cast, this incisive and compelling new American drama is not to be missed.
Mosque Alert, despite its incendiary title (which refers to an Islamophobic website created by one of its characters), adds shades of gray to a discussion that often gets a black and white treatment. The arguments revolve around a proposed mosque in Naperville, a predominantly white, wealthy and Christian community in the Chicago suburbs. Weighing in on both sides in Jamil Khoury’s new play, in its premiere at Silk Road Rising, are voices that range from xenophobic to conservatively Muslim, with many perspectives in between. Khoury’s script does an excellent job of creating complex, human characters—even if they do not always recognize this in each other.
What works so well in this play are the familiar debates between family members and friends. The drama increases as a town hall meeting is called and a support walk is scheduled and Daniel Baker (Steve Silver) ramps up the paranoia by stepping out from the anonymity of his hate-filled website, showing up in person to rile up the crowd with misinformation and conjecture. What started as plausible concerns about the mosque, traffic increases and sound levels, soon became outright anti-immigrant sentiment and jeers.
“Mosque Alert” tackles a range of contemporary subjects, from fear of Islam, to the crooked politics of zoning laws, to national and individual responses to acts of terror. When Khoury asks his characters to make choices about their public and private beliefs, he involves the audience in the outcome for this mosque.
Mosque Alert presents two Naperville families—the Islamic Qabbanis and Christian Bakers—who are longtime friends. The young adult kids are close social friends, while the wealthy fathers (Tawfiq and Ted) are personally tight, politically well-connected and equally corrupt. Circulating around them are the assimilative local Imam (no beard, no robe) and his firebrand wife, and Ted's pathologically-bigoted brother who stirs up the hateful hornets' nest. Political and religious complications—such as that of MINO individuals, over-assimilated "Muslims in name only"—strain families and friendships, although the wives and kids reconnect in a semi-idealistic ending even as the fathers threaten each other. There are no easy answers here.
Chicago is host to an experience that invites the audience into situations that are not casually available all at once, if ever: the living room of a Muslim imam and his wife, a chilling townhall meeting, a passionate exchange between Muslim millennials, a mainstream Midwest suburban household conflicted by sympathies and ambitions. In playwright Jamil Khoury’s characteristically ethnographic way, “Mosque Alert” at Silk Road Rising offers a matrix of possibilities, each raising questions and offering contrasting responses.