by Michele Lowe
How fateful that today, as I'm about to embark on a trip to London with Old Vic New Voices' TS Eliot US/UK Exchange, I would read a play set in a hotel room in London. I just picked a play at random and Lowe's beautiful and suspenseful Inana was what the gods had in store!
Inana is a love story of sorts between Yasin, a successful Iraqi museum curator and Shali, the daughter of an art forger. Set in 2003, just before the US invasion of Baghdad, the pressure is on Yasin to safeguard his country's most precious cultural items from the threat of war. Of most concern to him is the valuable statue of Inana, the goddess of love and fertility. In order to keep her safe, however, he must place her in the hands of others. And that's just the problem. He doesn't trust anyone to give her back after things have calmed down. He ends up striking a deal with the British Museum to guard her, but can he trust them?
He whisks his new bride, Shali, away to London for what she thinks is a wedding trip. The two of them spend the play in a hotel room sharing secrets and vulnerabilities, all while waiting for an important phone call from the British Museum. Most of the play's reveals occur in flashback, with the scenes melting into one another.
We meet Yasin's friend Abdel-Hakim Taliq, an Iraqui bookseller who is attempting to smuggle his book collection to Tehran before the invasion.
We also meet Emad Al-Bayit, Shali's father, known for his works of forgery (what he calls "interpretations") Initially, Yasin goes to meet Emad with less than noble intentions. He wants Emad to create a replica of Inana that would fool even the curators at the museum. Emad is resistant at first - he's not a fan of museums. He says to Yasin:
|Sumerian goddess of sexual love, |
fertility, and warfare
You put their history behind glass and then you ask them to pay to see it.
Eventually Emad agrees, on the condition that Yasin will marry his daughter, who is "too smart for her own good" and is a threat to his family due to her desire to teach women to read. Yasin reluctantly agrees.
The relationship between Yasin and Shali is of interest to me. When I think of "arranged marriages" I think of generations past. We forget that this is still a common occurrence in certain parts of the world. Shali is sensitive and afraid to be left alone, but she tells Yasin:
I have opinions and ideas though no one's heard them. The tiger may be in a cage, but if you ask him if he's independent, he'll tell you yes.
I won't reveal what happens to Inana but let's just say that this one-armed goddess holds more meaning than she appears to and that Yasin does find a place for her. He hopes that he can keep her safe:
Yasin. Let the living find her there in calmer generations.
Shali. There will never be calmer generations. But she will be found again.
The play has an undertone of hope - not just for the love between two people, but hope for the legacy of culture that a nation leaves behind through its artwork.