“Veils,” a brand new world premiere play, takes off on a cinematic plane ride that deposits viewers in Cairo in the company of two engaging, idealistic teenagers. The two young women are an effervescent duo of contagious enthusiasm in this visually stunning production by the Portland Stage Company.

One young woman is an Egyptian, the other an American from Philadelphia. Right from the get-go, playwright Tom Coash dispels any preconceived notions of stereotypical assumption, as the young woman from Egypt looks, acts and speaks like she is from a prosperous upscale American city center and the American teen looks, acts and behaves like a conservative Muslim woman of the Middle East.

Samar, the Egyptian, played by Hend Ayub, is decked out in stiletto-heeled high black leather boots, skin-tight designer jeans, Gucci accoutrements and never lets go of her smartphone, with which she continually twitters and tweets. She is a tech-savvy maven of Facebook, YouTube and an active practitioner of the blogosphere.   

Samar is a budding new age journalist and throughout the proceedings she sets up her tripod and her video camera and through a bit of clever stage magic we see the live actor and her live blog video image of that same actor projected overhead simultaneously on the background screen in large full color scale. It’s an ingenious scenic device with strong dramatic impact and brilliantly devised.  

Her American compatriot, Intisar, is played in high contrast by Donnetta Lavinia Grays. The American is a studious frump of strong religious conviction, unfashionably attired in a backpack, black Converse Chuck Taylor basketball shoes, olive drab clothes and the ever-important head scarf.  

The head scarf and all that it entails is the central point of contention in this complex clash of culture. Inherent and smartly conceived in this original script is a panoply of contrasting perceptions, beliefs and convictions. As the play progresses, these contrasts become convoluted then inverted. There is struggle and trouble, but throughout, the freshness and spontaneity of youthful enthusiasm is very adeptly illustrated, and in this respect the play sings.    

However, the drama is plagued by too wide a scope that attempts to encapsulate history, politics and world events, in addition to familial strife and generational divides. The travesty of 9/11 is graphically intoned and the continual theatrical hammer of the defilement, abasement and degradation of women dilute the passion of the piece. It is the heft of this enormously broad scope that burdens the play.  

The technical achievement of this production is absolutely superb. Brilliantly conceived and seamlessly orchestrated, three monumental white screens move magically side to side and forward and back while barraged with a colorful panorama of color projections that evoke the majesty of the Egyptian landscape and architecture, the turmoil of the mobs in the street, the spirit of revolution and the graphic illustration of a culture in chaos. These images are powerful, arresting, and a tribute to the design team and the technical staff.   

Complementing this fabulous visual chemistry is a a hauntingly evocative soundscape that underscores all the action on stage and on screen.

Each year, Portland Stage conducts a new play competition that this past year received 220 full length entries. “Veils” is a past competition winner from 2012. The commitment to new and original work is a highly laudable aspect of the production philosophy of Portland Stage.  

“Veils” continues through March 16, with performances Wednesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $35 to $45 with discounts for seniors and students. The box office phone is 774-0465, and the theater is online at www.portlandstage.org.

— Gregory Reynolds Morell, of Wells, is a writer, producer and director of the Antic Arts Center



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