US Assyrian diaspora community in world premiere play


The Goodman Theatre in Chicago recently premiered Layalina, a play by Martin Yousif Zebari that tells the story of a family’s migration, sacrifice, and struggles with identity. The play begins in 2003 during the US invasion of Iraq and follows the Ibrahim family as they navigate the changing political landscape and their own personal relationships. Zebari, who was born in Baghdad and raised in Skokie, Illinois, drew on personal experiences and fictional elements to create a story that captures the joys, tensions, and triumphs of an Iraqi-born Assyrian American family.

The premiere of Layalina is historic for the Goodman Theatre, as it marks the first time the Tony Award-winning theatre has hosted a work of SWANA origin (South West Asian and North African). Zebari’s play is a mirror for history, as it opens on March 13, almost exactly two decades after the US invaded Iraq. However, rather than focusing on the war, the play explores the intimate struggles of a family seeking each other out and finding their way back to each other.

Zebari’s experiences as a queer person also inform the play, as he imbues his characters with his own struggles to find acceptance and understanding in the community. Despite anxieties about dramatizing the struggles of an Assyrian American family, Zebari has received positive feedback for Layalina and hopes to write more plays and TV shows that bring visibility to underrepresented communities.