The Beauty Inside is an appropriate title for Catherine Filloux's new play, now receiving its New York premiere at the Culture Project (45 Below). On the surface, the production suffers from tepid direction and the miscasting of a pivotal role. But digging deeper inside this moving and important piece reveals an exceptionally well-written script and several beautifully nuanced performances. The Beauty Inside is the story of Yalova (Tatiana Gomberg), a 14-year-old Turkish girl, and her relationships with the family that has turned against her and the stranger who will save her. After surviving a series of brutal rapes at the hands of her married neighbor, Yalova must go into hiding to escape her family as they seek to regain their honor by killing her. Her salvation comes in the form of Devrim (Jennifer Gibbs), a Turkish-American lawyer who takes on Yalova's case and challenges the centuries-old tradition of honor killing.
While Yalova represents the tradition and oppression of her Eastern culture, Devrim is the embodiment of the Western heritage that lives within her Eastern upbringing (she smokes and drinks, and prefers bikinis to head scarves). With Yalova and Devrim, Filloux has created an intriguing dichotomy of East versus West and old versus new. As Devrim helps Yalova to find her Western voice, Yalova teaches Devrim the beauty of her Eastern heritage. Their complex and fascinating (and touchingly humorous) relationship is the backbone of The Beauty Inside.
The heart of the play is Gomberg's Yalova. Gomberg constructs a complex, sensitive, moving portrayal of a young girl caught between circumstance, tradition, and longing. With an easy grace, her Yalova evolves from a sheltered child to a tortured victim to an independent young woman. It is a beautiful performance.
Gibbs, however, is a talented actress unfortunately miscast, with her broad acting style better suited to high melodrama than to the quiet honesty of Filloux's script.
If Gomberg is the play's heart, then its soul belongs to Michelle Rios and her portrayal of Peri, Yalova's mother. In a compelling battle of nature versus nurture, Rios's Peri is at odds with herself