Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
American Fast is centered around Khady (Amel Khalil), a college basketball star hoping to bring home the championship in her senior year. Khady is talented, hard working, and driven to succeed. But, much to the dismay of her coach (Ontaria Kim Wilson), she is too self-centered to be a good team player. Khady starts to feel overwhelmed when her mother Suzan (Hend Ayoub) shows up to stay with her during the playoffs. Suzan believes Khady will need the support because this year the playoffs fall on Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims do not eat or drink during the day. What Suzan does realize is that Khady was never planning to keep the fast while playing in the finals. When the story about her playing through Ramadan blows up in the media, Khady fears she will disappoint her mother, her boyfriend, her fans, and her coach. American Fast grapples with what it means to be as a college athlete, a modern Muslim, and a young woman in the public eye.
Amel Khalil is captivating as Khady, who is audacious and determined but still struggling to find her way in the world. Khalil shares a meaningful bond with Ayoub and their mother/daughter dynamic is spot on. Ayoub gives a quietly powerful performance that drives a lot of the production's emotional intensity. Khady's boyfriend Gabe is played by achingly sympathetic Abdul Sesay. Sesay conveys both authentic love and intense frustration in his interactions with Khalil.
While the ensemble is consistently terrific, the production itself is more of a mixed bag. Tiffany Bacon's costume designs feel right for the characters and the moment. Melpomene Katakalos's minimalist scenic designs are unduly gloomy, with Khady's apartment feeling particularly austere. Lighting designer Shannon Zura brings some life to the stage with her creative designs, but there are moments when the performance space just needs to be brighter. Jorge Cousineau's projection designs are clever and precisely executed. Cousineau also does a good job with the sound design.
Featuring an original story and a unique perspective, American Fast is a timely and emotionally resonant new work. Khalil and the rest of the small ensemble do a stellar job of connecting with each other and their audience. Co-directors Seth Rozin and Zaina Dana do not get everything in the production right, but this thought-provoking tale is powerfully engaging from start to finish.
American Fast, presented by the InterAct Theatre Company, runs through June 25, 2023, at the Proscenium Theatre at The Drake, 302 S. Hicks Street, Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information, please visit www.interacttheatre.org.