The Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Sylvia Khoury’s “Power Strip” offers a harrowing tale of survival, and a microcosm of one of the world’s great challenges.
Refugees are in the news, and for most Americans, far away. But the distance is just that — mere geography. “Power Strip” brings the crisis up close, in personal, and affecting terms.
All the scenic elements on the Claire Tow Theater stage are beautifully crafted, and present a convincing atmosphere of dread. Arnulfo Maldonado’s set is a littered mound of dirt. Fog wreathes this barren hillside, and thick clouds bear down like restless ghosts.
Jen Schriever’s lighting stresses the dark, dead-end prospects here. Matt Hubb’s intermittent and mechanized sound articulates a creeping, inevitable menace.
Vestiges of civilization remain, just barely. The action centers on a solitary young woman. In a gripping portrayal that demands desperate choices and tender moments alike, as well as a host of agonizing calculations over fate and trust, Dina Shihabi etches a complete portrait of a woman at her wit’s end.
The play follows Yasmin as she seeks a way to Europe, to escape both the ruins of Syria and her no man’s land outside a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, in 2016.
A few detours from this dark hillside amplify her dreams and fraught history. She is able to escape, briefly, into memories and hopes.
Meanwhile, the pressures of family heritage, religion and partnering are made clear. The only escape is in her imagination. Options narrow down, to the extreme.
The “power strip” of the title is Yasmin’s fragile connection to the unseen larger world, a place indifferent to her and to thousands of unfortunate Syrian refugees. Likewise, the grim, overcrowded realities of the migrant camps lurk just offstage.
Yasmin lives on the in-between, and however improbable her solitary survival might be, outside the fencing of a refugee camp, her story stands on its own, and is a stark call for compassion and understanding from the audience.
The lives of three men intersect with Yasmin’s, in contrasts of intimacy and trust. Peter Ganim, Darius Homayoun and Ali Lopez-Sohaili are all on point with their characters, each with his own need for what Yasmin might offer, however reluctantly or under duress.
Director Tyne Rafaeli helps to shape an arc of tragic consequences for Yasmin and her people. We see clearly, in simple and basic human interactions, the interplay of limited resource, humanity and family. Barter and bargaining involve both cash and other reservoirs of value.
Yasmin’s story is chilling enough. Any contemplation of the larger implications of such deprivation — and of the cruelty of nations and their leaders — is left up to us. And to is credit, “Power Strip” is no screed or agitprop, but rather an eloquent warning of just how punitive and feeble our civilization can be.