CLOSELY RELATED KEYS: an intriguing title derived from a musical expression meaning “to share many common tones.” Thus playwright Wendy Graf introduces us to a tale which could have been lifted from today’s headlines, a tale of race, politics, war, guilt, hidden pain, family – and much more. This is not simply a story about the horrific, lingering aftereffects of war – certainly worth a potent look. But it is more. Graf has created a timely and powerful tale of today’s schisms, both personal and political. CLOSELY RELATED KEYS manages to tell the story of countless individuals through the eyes of two women impacted by the overwhelming events around them. Events over which they had no control but which left indelible marks on them.
Set in New York City just a few months prior to the tenth anniversary of September 11, CLOSELY RELATED KEYS introduces us to Julia Dolan (Sydney A. Mason), an up-and-coming black corporate attorney who is the classic overachiever – ambitious, competent, focused, in control, and sure of herself. She appears to be living the perfect life in her beautiful, artfully outfitted Manhattan apartment. Her boss/boyfriend Ron (Nick Molari) is considerate, loving, and able to offer her the chance to shine in her profession: she has the coveted opportunity to sit second chair in the trial of the century, and she is being considered for bigger and better things in her prestigious law firm.
When her father Charlie (Oscar Best) – with whom she has a distant, even refrigerated relationship – comes for an unexpected visit, he brings with him news which will forever change her life. It seems that her father was stationed over 20 years ago in Iraq, where he fell in love and ultimately divorced Julia’s mother in order to pursue his once-in-a-lifetime affair with an Iraqi violinist. Until now, Charlie failed to mention that the relationship produced Neyla (Mehrnaz Mohammadi), his daughter and Julia’s half-sister, a devout Moslem raised in Iraq. After secretly searching for his child for years following her mother’s brutal death, Charlie has finally made contact. Neyla is a talented violinist who plans to audition for Juilliard – and is scheduled to arrive in NY in three weeks. Without Julia’s knowledge, her father has graciously offered Julia’s apartment for Neyla’s stay.
Slowly and skillfully, the intense drama unfolds as the two women begin to share space, both physical and psychological. As Graf pulls layer upon layer away from each woman, their innermost thoughts and fears begin to emerge – as well as lots of surprises for the audience. Kudos to the entire cast, who change before your eyes from what they appear to be to what lies beneath. Director Saundra McClain has done an adept job of guiding each of the principals to their final seamless metamorphosis. Scenic designer Stephanie Kerley Schwartz, lighting designer Donny Jackson, and sound designer Dave Mickey ably create the flexible stage world surrounding them. CLOSELY RELATED KEYS may be one of Graf’s best plays yet – especially true because of its timely integration of today’s world events into the intimate story of two people from different and distant worlds. This is a not-to-be missed production and the perfect choice for the International City Theatre’s first post-pandemic live production after being shuttered for 16 months.
CLOSELY RELATED KEYS runs through September 12, 2021, with performances at 8 p.m. on Thursdays (9/2 and 9/9), Fridays (9/3 and 9/10), and Saturdays (9/4 and 9/11), and at 2 p.m. on Sundays (9/5 and 9/12). The International City Theatre is located in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 330 East Seaside Way, Long Beach, CA 90802. Tickets are $49 on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and $52 on Sundays. For information and reservations, call 562-436-4610 or go online.