NORA ACHRATI: I'd been involved in theater through camps and plays as a kid, but I'd pursued other interests in college and grad school. My college roommate was a theater major, and became a local DC actress -- after we graduated, I'd go see her shows. We’re still very close. I got my MA in Arab Studies in 2006 and started working for a DC-based academic journal. I was working there when my friend, who was in a production of Mary ZImmerman's Arabian Nights at Constellation Theater, asked if I could come in as a language consultant for the show. I have such a strong memory of coming into that rehearsal -- they were already in the space, on stage -- and just marveling at how much fun they were having, and how much the work they were doing resonated with me. On my friend's recommendation, I signed up for after-work acting classes, and just fell deeper into things. I parted ways with my journal job in 2011. And here I am.
JL: Set in 2003, INTELLIGENCE is a historical fiction that examines the lies that led to the war in Ira, the impact of the war on the Iraqi people, and what happened when the Bush Administration retaliated against two U.S. citizens when the truth of those lies were revealed. Why do you feel this play is relevant to today’s audiences?
NA: We've joked in talkbacks that this play makes us nostalgic for a time when lies at this level of government had consequences. There are clearly parallels with what's going on right now here in the US, with our leadership. But it's also a reminder that some of the most significant global conflicts we're facing today -- the rise of ISIS, the refugee crisis, the unending conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, arguably, the Arab Spring and its fallout -- didn't come out of nowhere. The seismic decisions a handful of people made fourteen, fifteen years ago -- the lies they told in service of those decisions -- had consequences that are still rippling across the globe. And still killing people.
JL: Who are you playing? What, if anything, do you have in common with this character’s passions, values, intentions, or belief system?
NA: I play Leyla Nazari, an Iraqi expat living in the US whose only family connection is her uncle, who lives in Jordan and whom she loves deeply. That love of family -- even family with difficult history -- really resonated with me. I'm just in awe of her drive and her bravery.
JL: What do you hope the audience walks away thinking about after experiencing this play?
NA: My hope is that people remember for as long as possible that behind every headline and news report are the full and real lives of people we'll never get to read about. A war isn't just a war; it's a personal catastrophe for every family living under bomb strikes, and for each member of their family living out of range. A leak isn't just a leak; it's the upending of livelihoods, and sometimes lives. I know this play reminded me viscerally of how much power we allow a relative few individuals -- our elected officials, and their unelected teams. It reminded me that we can't afford to check out.
JL: What’s next for you as an actor? Where can we follow your work?
NA: I'll be at Imagination Stage (along with our amazing Intelligence SM, Trevor Riley!) performing in The Jungle Book from April 22-May 28. In the fall I'll be playing the Waiter in Death of a Salesman at Fords (alongside Intelligence's Aakhu TuahNera Freeman)!