The horrific killing of a young Pakistani woman at the hands of her family is the catalyst for the action in Honor Killing, now onstage at Florida Studio Theatre. It’s a world premiere production written by first-time playwright Sarah Bierstock, and it’s a tautly told—if sometimes overwrought—look at culture clashes, differing male-female perspectives, and the value of a woman’s life—not only abroad but back home in America.
The main character of Honor Killing is Allisyn Davis (Rachel Moulton), a New York Times reporter about to head to Pakistan to cover the story of the killing of the young woman, who had married against her family’s will. Allisyn is driven, as we can see from the get-go, moving swiftly to re-establish her overseas contacts from time spent in Pakistan earlier.
But her push is stymied when her visa is denied at the border, because of previous pieces she’s written that cast the Pakistani government in a bad light. Frustrated, she must direct the story from a hotel room in Dubai while another Times reporter, Ben (Michael Sweeney Hammond), reports on the ground with the help of those contacts, Abbas (J. Paul Nicholas) and Mehreen (Devon Ahmed).
Naturally, Allisyn and Ben have had a previous relationship—one that came to an abrupt end on her part with no explanation. As the play unfolds, however, we learn more about Allisyn’s past and what compels her to pursue the stories about the abuse of women that she does. We also get some surprises as we meet the murdered woman’s husband (Nicholas again) and hear from Allisyn’s boss (William Langan) and her pregnant sister back home (Maria Couch).
Those surprises lend some twists to the otherwise familiar arc of Honor Killing. In the production, directed by Richard Hopkins, video and projection designs by Rocco DiSanti bring technology and screens of all kinds to the fore—Skyping, TV news, cell phones, etc. But all the bell and whistles don’t change the fact that Honor Killing’s overall story pretty much goes where you expect it to go.
Moulton, who’s done excellent work at FST before, has to cope with too much emotional overload here; the action moves along so quickly we almost never see her in anything but high-stress mode. Ahmed, as a Pakistani activist who has been friendly with Allisyn but resents what she perceives as her Western superiority to the rescue mentality, shows good energy but is forced to deliver speeches, not real dialogue. Hammond and Couch provide some necessary contrast to the impassioned rhetoric flying around; they’re more concerned about Allisyn the person than the larger issues involved. Nicholas, who plays four roles in all, manages to make each one convincing and distinct.
Overall, Honor Killing addresses timely issues that can make for good drama. It just could use some fine tuning, employing a little more nuance and perhaps less of the in-your-face approach.
Honor Killing continues through May 25 at FST’s Gompertz Theatre. For tickets call 366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org.