Gum is an odd, disquieting, short (75 minutes) play leaving a long aftertaste. Set in an unnamed Arab country, it concerns two sisters: Rahmi, the rebellious older one, and Lina, her flighty but more docile junior. They are chiefly in charge of a strict but seemingly not uncaring aunt. Both girls adore a kind of chewing gum from abroad widely believed to contain aphrodisiacs inserted by enemies wishing to undermine Muslim societies by making their women wanton. It all takes place in a walled garden containing a pool used for either purification or sensual pleasure.
Rahmi went for a fatal ride with a couple of youths who fed her the guilty gum that led to a backseat orgy. Now she is promised to Inayat, a conservative young man of unimpressive means and manner. Rahmi is not thrilled; Lina, to whom she is very close, may be somewhat more amused.
The girls receive (unexplained) shipments of American pop music and language cassettes containing rude words, as well as gum. They sing wispy little songs and have their own rituals within the overarching, rigidly patriarchal ones. Inayat keeps calling solicitously, but one of the young seducers makes, in his presence, an unsolicited appearance atop the wall, with distressing consequences. Things get hairier as Inayat now insists on Rahmi’s circumcision to ensure her chastity.
Daphne Rubin-Vega, much better here than in Rent, is a credible Rahmi, and the mercurial Angel Desai an even better Lina. Firdous Bamji strikes me as a bit too understated as Inayat; Lizan Mitchell is a properly inscrutable Auntie – if only Loretta Greco, the otherwise adequate director, had not placed her so often front and center and in-our-face. The able dramatist Karen Hartman writes with pithy incisiveness and an astute ear, though I wonder whether the ending could not have been made clearer.