Basketball Diaries – a review of “American Fast”

by Michael Buzzelli

Khady (Tara Touzie) is leading her college basketball team toward a victory. Unfortunately, March Madness coincides with Ramadan, and Khady can’t eat or drink during the day as her team enters the Final Four in Kareem Fahmy’s “American Fast.”

During the fast, Khady gets hangry and takes it out on the people closest to her; her boyfriend Gabe (Terry Bell), her Coach (Hilary Ward) and her mother (Deena Aziz).

She becomes a world-renowned Muslim-American hero. She’s trending on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, but all she wants to do is win, even at the expense of her boyfriend, her coach and her mom.  The only people who have her back.

Ironically, the hero with the jump shot has feet of clay and gets caught in a spectacular lie. Her fans turn on her and things get very ugly very quickly.

“American Fast” seems like a play about sports, and while the game of basketball is heavily discussed, it is about faith, religion and relationships.

Khady (Tara Touzie) scores a H in a game of HORSE in “American Fast.” Photo credit: Kristi Jan Hoover.

Britton Mauk’s puzzle box set is delightful. At first, it looks austere and then it folds out and twirls about. It beautifully accents Jason H. Thompson’s projection design, which adds an extra layer to this gorgeous production.

Fahmy’s script sparkles under Jennifer Chang’s direction.

Aziz is superb as the Egyptian mother, Suzan. She is an excellent actor who oozes charm. Aziz delivers her lines with panache. It’s a marvelous performance.

Kudos to Denmo Ibrahim, the dialect coach who empowers Aziz to capture a sharp, Egyptian accent.

Bell’s Gabe is terrific. The actor has appeared in theater and television, including “Howards End” in Chicago.

Why mention that the actor was in a production of “Howards End?” Hold that thought. It will become clear shortly.

Ward does an excellent job as the Coach. She plays a bad ass with a soft side, and Ward nails it on every level.

Khady is not a likable protagonist. She is difficult, arrogant and unable to connect with the people who love and care about her. Touzie plays her with a marked determination and defined skill.

While there was a terrific cast, Khady’s character has difficulty connecting with her colleagues, her coach, her boyfriend and, even, her mother. It makes her a difficult character cheer for.

In E. M. Forster’s “Howards End,” he writes, “Only connect!”

I told you we’d get back to it.

Because Khady is an unsympathetic and nearly unrepentant protagonist, it was hard to connect with her, making her ups and downs on and off the court more a slog, even though it was a well-acted, well-written script with a gorgeous set. The connection is missing.

At the beginning of the play, two of City Theatre’s co-artistic directors, Claire Drobot and Monteze Freeland, tell us that “American Fast” is a work in progress. When Fahmy finds a way for Khady to connect with the audience without changing her character, he will have a hit on his hands.

It’s one revision short of perfection.


“American Fast” runs through May 23 at the City Theatre, 1300 Bingham Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15203. For more information, click here.

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