Review: “HAK” at HB Studio

Anthony J. Piccione

  • New York Theatre Critic

For the past few years, there’s been an ongoing debate throughout the United States and Europe over whether or not to accept refugees from Syria and other Middle Eastern nations in turmoil, and if so, how many. Often, those who support either barring or limiting the welcoming of these refugees cite the need to put the care of their home nations first and foremost, above all others. However, when watching a show such as HAK – a new one-act drama from Berkay Ates, which recently completed its residency at HB Studio – it’s only harder to see how anyone could argue that failing to care for refugees is anything but terrible for humanity.

The minute it begins, the dark and somber tone of the show is set. With a combination of dim lighting and ambient soundscapes, the production makes excellent use of lights and sound to prepare the audience for an emotional storytelling experience. While I see lots of good shows in New York each month, it’s rare that I see independent theatre that is successful in maximizing these elements of technical theatre, to create an atmosphere that will make the play captivating and memorable. I applaud the work of lighting designer Aaron Porter in making this possible, and while the program did not make clear who the show’s sound designer was, I also appreciate the work and decisions that were made, in this area.

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The play itself feels more like a series of short stories told through monologues – rather than one traditional story with a beginning, middle, and end – all of which revolve around the themes of why Middle Eastern refugees flee their home nations, and the bigotry and fear they ultimately face, as they seek asylum. Through an ensemble of five actors – consisting of Maria Argentina Souza, Dahiana Castro, Buket Gulbeyaz, Ricardo Montt, and Brian Anthony Simmons – these monologues are delivered with vivid passion, to the point where tears were often seen running down their faces. Thanks to these heartfelt performances, as well as the sophisticated direction of Jee Duman, this show is just as potent as it is poetic, and ultimately left audience members feeling just as emotional as the actors they saw.

As a critic, this is the second show I’ve reviewed during its residency at HB Studio, after having reviewed the equally wonderful show BEE late last year. These are exactly the types of shows that everyone in our country ought to be seeing, including the immigration skeptics who often prevent refugees from finding sanctuary, both in the U.S. and throughout much of Europe. If they have any heart at all, they will consider the real life inspiration behind the stories that are being told, and thus reconsider their own positions. While this show’s brief run has ended, I absolutely look forward to seeing more residencies here, in the future.

I hope our readers will, too.

“HAK” ended its run at HB Studio on August 26th. For more information on future residencies, please visit www.hbstudio.org.