Allah Has 100 Names
Red Dragon Theatre
Directed by Eric Karwisch
Alley Theatre
Through Oct. 30

For their inaugural production, the Red Dragon Theatre is presenting the world premiere of the English language translation of Allah Has 100 Names — that’s a double first!

Tom Meunier translated Günther Eich’s German. Director Eric Karwisch brought the play to life at the Alley Theatre. The Alley, a small, black-box theater, is made more intimate for this show by the seats being set in a circle. The action takes place within this circle, creating a front-row view for the audience, and a 360 degree set for the action.

The story is about Hakim, an Egyptian who hears the voice of Allah and dedicates his life to searching for Allah’s 100th name. When the play begins, a Youth has come in search of the aged Hakim, asking him what the 100th name is. Thus, Hakim begins to tell the Youth about his pilgrimage.

R. Brian Knoffke plays Hakim. Against Knoffke’s type, Hakim is a serious searcher. Most often, Knoffke is seen in roles that are of the zany sort, but here he proves himself most capable of taking on more serious characters. Knoffke is constantly center stage, with other actors filling in various roles — some with less success. Knoffke never loses his momentum, and creates a sympathetic and consistent character throughout.

The story itself is a touching search for faith — no matter what that faith is. Allah Has 100 Names will continue through Oct. 30 at the Alley Theatre, 1716 N. Illinois St. Call 926-8888 for reservations.

Two Rooms
PEOPLES playhouse
Directed by Scott Greenwell
LAMP Gallery
Through Oct. 31

Poignant and powerful, the PEOPLES playhouse is proclaiming its presence with its inaugural production, Lee Blessing’s Two Rooms.

It is the story of Michael and Lainie, who were professors teaching in Beirut when Michael was taken hostage. The action is split between Lainie, in America hoping for her husband’s release, and Michael, who is captive in unknown areas. Lainie gets regular visits from Ellen, a representative from the State Department, and Walker, a journalist.

The intensity of the play is overwhelming. PEOPLES scored a double hit by choosing such a compelling script and a stellar cast. Leigh Mabry White as Lainie is a fireball of emotion, but also sinks into herself completely when melancholy hits. Nick Taylor as Michael is passionate and insightful.

Lisa Kaake as Ellen and JT Robertson as Walker represent two viewpoints: the bleeding-heart liberal (yet self-serving) media and the cold-hearted fact-crunchers of the government. Kaake’s almost Stoic response to Lainie’s pain engenders the sought-after frustrated response, while Robertson’s nuanced performance gives his character depth beyond his words.

But the stars here remain White and Taylor. You vicariously live Lainie’s out-of-control feelings and Michael’s underlying desperation.

The script is a remarkable work, and though the story is set in 1989, the situations dealt with are all too similar to our own times. The timing of the play, right before the presidential election, is apt.

Director Scott Greenwell has crafted a show that could well see its way into the top productions of the year. See it at LAMP Gallery, 901 N. East St., through Oct. 31.

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