"Paradise" by Laura Maria Censabella


The following review appeared in the Mendocino Beacon, 5/4/2023

A review by Bill Fenley

Now in production at the Mendocino Theatre Company, Laura Maria Censabella’s award-winning play, ‘Paradise,’ directed by Virginia Reed, explores life and love as defined by expectations, nature, neurons, and culture.

Yasmeen (Tooba Imran), a spirited seventeen-year-old Muslim senior in an overcrowded Bronx high school, dreams of attending Columbia University to study science, but a failed science test has spoiled her perfect academic standing and threatens admission to Columbia. Her request for a retest is denied by the disgruntled science teacher, Dr. Royston (Lucas Eli), a middle-aged anglo atheist and victim of his own past folly.

Persistent, Yasmeen convinces Royston to relent by suggesting a research plan to study the paradisiacal euphoria of first love among her adolescent peers. The plan, they decide, might secure  Yasmeen’s place at Columbia and restore Royston’s tarnished career. “Nature likes simplicity and unity,” one of them comments as they eagerly agree to the plan that sets them on a turbulent, poignant,  cultural, and personal journey where simplicity and unity are questioned and challenged. They discover life and love are not simple or unified and can be conflicted by the ‘overestimate of rewards.’ The plan and plot unfold to a resolution neither Royston nor Yasmeen expects.

Imran’s outstanding performance commands the stage. Her transformation of Yasmeen from an intelligent, articulate, but twitchy adolescent, perpetually in motion, to a more insightful young woman is brilliant. Imran gives her character depth, steadfast cultural conviction, a capacity to move through disappointment, and at the edge of despair, make her voice heard.

Through body language and sour negativity, Eli plays a persuasive bruised by fate Royston wounded by the loss of a privileged research position at Columbia and a broken marriage. Eli reveals Royston’s unapologetic grasping for personal glory in a remarkably cold delivery as the research project develops positive results.

Reflecting Royston and plot developments, the ingenious stage set classroom serves as interesting metaphorical background to the plot and characters. An extended corner of the room takes the eye into

pinched, acute-angled lines of perspective suggesting a way out, but the vanishing point blocked by a  broad standing pipe prevents escape. The room’s window coverings, Royston idly manipulates, remain closed, preventing light and blinding the room from the outside. The door, left ajar at Yasmeen’s request,  eventually closes, and the room becomes a cage.

Costumes designed by Pamela W. Allen reflect Yasmeen’s culture and the passage of time and clearly define the characters.

The MTC production of ‘Paradise’ brings together exceptional talent to a well-written, provocative,  engaging play that may be seen thru May 28, 2023.

Thursday through Saturday evening and a Sunday matinee

For Tix, call (707) 937-4477 or online: www.mendocinotheatre.org