If you had the chance to hang out with some Iraqis, specifically, some men and women who survived the U.S. invasion by leaving the country they loved, would you take it? Would you be interested to hear their stories in their own words?

Consider yourself invited.

In 2008, Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen of the New York Theatre Workshop traveled to Jordon and interviewed 35 Iraqi refuges representing as broad a social spectrum as they could find.

A talented, mostly Middle Eastern cast performs the full text of 11 of these interviews in “Aftermath,” a documentary theater piece now playing at the Paramount Center via ArtsEmerson.

The play’s master of ceremonies is Shahid (Fajer Al-Kaisi), an Arabic translator who does his best to keep things light and affable—as apolitical as possible. Shahid is laid back and receptive to the crowd. He sports a ready smile and whenever possible, provides context to the stories of his colleagues through some pretty good jokes.

He moves us back and forth between our storytellers who, thanks to the dramatic lighting and scenic designs of David Langer and Richard Hoover, sit silently in the shadows, dimly visible, while they await their chance to speak with us.

There are husband and wife Fouad (Barzin Akhavan) and Naimah (Rasha Zamamiri), professional cooks who ask your forgiveness for watching the Iraqi team play the Australians in the world cup over your shoulder—it’s far too important to miss for any reason in the world—even, perhaps especially—while difficult memories are related.

There’s Yassar, a proudly upper-class dermatologist in love with Hollywood, who never imagined he would find himself where he did, treated as a head surgeon with little help and a 24-hour schedule of doing what he could for the crushed, burned and bleeding.

Asad (Rufio Lerma) a theater director, and his wife Fadilah (Maha Chehlaoui), a painter, bubble over with excitement at the opportunity to discuss the arts as they did in the days before political crackdowns threatened their speech and bombings threatened their lives.

And there are others. All of them warm, often humorous eager to tell their story, person to person, as they continue to strive to make sense of what happened to them some suddenly and changed everything they new and felt and believed so utterly.

The cast of “Aftermath” are extraordinary storytellers, and the people they represent feel remarkable only for their lucidity and relative in calm in the wake of trauma. Otherwise, they sound like people you know, your family, friends and neighbors.

It’s important to hear. Just as these refugees struggle to come to terms with their new lives, we as Americans have some work to do to come to terms with the results of our recent and on-going military operations. Baring witness is an important part of that work. We are fortunate to have this engaging and powerful play to help us along.

Directed by Jessica Blank, “Aftermath” runs through October 31 at the Paramount Mainstage. See the ArtsEmerson Web site for the schedule of after-show “talk backs” and all other scheduling and ticketing information.

About The Author

Jason Rabin is a Blast contributing editor

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