Closely Related Keys

Mohammedi, Mason. Photo by Andrew Hofstetter.

Closely Related Keys

Closely Related Keys, Wendy Graf’s eerily relevant play about the US’s involvement in Iraq and its devastating influences on family members unfolds at International City Theatre.  The circumstances feel like déjà vu, all over again, as Yogi Berra used to say.  While adhering to Covid restrictions demand that audiences remain well apart from each other, the spaced-out audience seemed to be more expansive in relation to the jam-packed stage picture, filled with a complete New York apartment, but showing only a bit of forestage to accommodate a number of additional scenes.

The realistic setting blends well with the realistic, episodic style of writing that unfolds the story of an ex-serviceman’s Iraqi daughter, Neyla (Mehrnaz Mohammadi), unbeknownst to Julia, his state-side child (Sydney A. Mason). No one seems to question his insensitivity as he foists Neyla, who has managed to escape Iraq, onto Julia for safe-keeping.  The dilemma, of course, becomes how the two girls will learn to get along. It helps that the father, Charlie (Oscar Best), is a handsome, imposing figure to whom both women seem enthralled. But there is a bit of cognitive dissonance involved in accepting Neyla, who has no discernable likeness to her supposed father and half-sister.

Although masterfully produced, the aggregate of the parts fail to coalesce into a whole.  Most of the characters’ costuming suits each of their characters in contemporary styles, yet Neyla’s traditional Iraqi garb is explained away, despite her description as an accomplished European-style musician.  In fact, previous to the war, women adopted a variety of styles, as long as they wore hijab.

Despite the cramped stage and my quibbles with Neyla’s dress, however, Graf’s play presages some of the argument that we are presently experiencing since our hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan. It is chilling to realize how individual lives in two countries have been almost identically displaced by war.  Graf’s tale is of displacement and danger brings home the immediacy of our current dilemma.

The International City Theatre re-opens with its previously postponed production of Wendy Graf’s Closely Related Keys, performing Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 pm, through September 12th at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 330 E. Seaside Way, Long Beach, CA 90802.  Tickets are $49, available at, or phone 562-436-4610.