Sunday, April 17, closes the run of “Urge For Going” at the Public Theater. This limited engagement is part of Public LAB, which introduces audiences (albeit briefly) to new works in line with the theater’s vision and artistic or political aesthetic. In the case of “Urge,” it’s also an opportunity to expose up-and-coming playwrights like Mona Mansour, a member of the company’s Emerging Writers Group.
Mansour’s plot expands upon a familiar premise — a young girl growing up and attempting to take the reigns of her life — by setting it in a Lebanese refugee camp for Palestinians. The audience is empathetically enticed, remembering their own struggles to shake off parents’ desires in order to find themselves; here, protagonist Jamila faces the added pressures of a suffocatingly obtuse government, unassailably righteous father and a baccalaureate entry exam that a person must pass on the first try if he or she wants to be one of the purported 20 of every 300 Palestinians who ever makes it out of Lebanon.
Although flaws for this production were few, with an evocative set and quick-paced dialogue, the main one is hard to shake off: Jamila (Tala Ashe) is meant to be 17 years old. The crux of her struggle is based on matriculating to college and using her intellect as her sole escape route from the tiny, hole-ridden and broken-down hovel she shares with her parents, two uncles and one Baywatch-obsessed, mentally damaged brother, Jul (Omid Abtahi) — whose story is pieced together over the course of 85 minutes (no intermission), to culminate in one of the play’s most moving sequences about the limitations, regrets and losses of the refugee lifestyle.
However, the actress is apparently close to a decade older than her presumed age — and it shows. It’s hard to believe in her naivete, childish outbursts and struggle to be the most mature person in her sphere of influence when she seems like she might be almost more convincing as a younger sister to Jamila’s unfortunately underdeveloped, underused mother (Jacqueline Antaramian).
Even without leaning as heavily as it sometimes does on Woodsworth’s “Tintern Abbey” to convey a sense of a homeland lost and remembered, the play’s characters are touching and believable, the energy is high and the play is steadfastly committed to its human, rather than political, explorations of self-identity.