Henry Naylor's 'Angel' is a one-woman triumph 

A woman's place

click to enlarge 'Angel' puts a face to the Middle Eastern conflict

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'Angel' puts a face to the Middle Eastern conflict

I was running late. The ticket for Angel, mind you, says quite clearly "No late seating permitted." And they mean it. I made it in just before the doors closed, sans water or wine (one of the great selling points of the Woolfe Street venue) craning my head to locate my tardy date (he didn't make it), wondering if I was even in the right seat. I was on edge, not a great start to the evening. But then the lights dimmed. Avital Lvova, dressed simply in a forest green tank, camo pants, and military grade boots, took center stage. I immediately forgot about my minor inconveniences, and listened.

Maybe it's because I so love words — and British accents — but for the approximately hour-long one-woman monologue, I was completely mesmerized by Naylor's narrative, and Lvova's full embodiment of this legendary Kurdish fighter. The story, written like an epic family saga, is centered around the life of Rehana, a Syrian farm girl turned vicious sharpshooter. We meet Rehana when she is 12. Her father finds her out in the fields, staring down her beloved dog, who has become rabid. This is Rehana's first introduction to killing. "Shoot the dog, shoot the dog!"

But it is just Lvova on stage. No dog, no father. Just her face, fearful, defiant, upset. Then her face again, angry, brows furrowed, voice dropping, "Shoot the dog!" She plays Rehana, Angel of Kobani, and, without pause, she becomes all of the people who shape the girl. The wise, fierce, strict father. The mother who watches Boston Legal, "Rehana wants to be a lawyer like Henry Shatner!" The Turkish guards who will not let the 130,000 Syrian refugees cross the border. The boy turned wicked man from her hometown who buys her as a sex slave. The oil trader who helps her escape. And, then the final shapers, the six women fighters who bring her into the fold.

It doesn't feel rushed, amazingly, for all of this to take place in an hour, on a small stage, with one woman telling the story of an entire nation. It feels natural, which is due to the quality of the writing, but even more so to the quality of the acting. Naylor's script could come across as damn wordy, but Lvova makes it poetry, makes it flow, makes it relatable. She's not preaching, or screaming, or demanding, she's simply talking. And we're listening.

Rehana's main quest, before she becomes a Kurdish fighter, is to find her father. She escapes imprisonment, rape, exploding cars, mistaken identity, and finally finds him in a hospital, on his deathbed. Lvova fights off sobs, forcing a smile towards the invisible dying man. She turns up, face weak, assuring Rehana that "I'm not dying, because I'm living on in you."

We don't know if Rehana actually killed 100 Jihadi fighters — not much is known about her, and accounts differ. Angel has become "an internet myth" and Naylor doesn't even know if she's alive or dead. It doesn't matter, though, what exactly happened, or where Angel actually is, because Naylor's Angel, Lvova's Angel, lives on.

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