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Alumnus’s play ‘Closely Related Keys’ explores themes of unconditional love

Written by alumnus Wendy Graf, “Closely Related Keys” follows the story of a work-driven Black lawyer, her long lost Iraqi half sister and her white male coworker, reflecting various racial relations and themes of unconditional love. (Courtesy of Andrew Hofstetter)

"Closely Related Keys"

Aug. 27 - Sep. 12

International City Theatre


By Hayden Carroll

Aug. 30, 2021 5:02 p.m.

This post was updated Sept. 6 at 8:31 p.m.

Closely related keys create chaos and harmony, but ultimately are all quite similar.

Alumnus Wendy Graf’s play “Closely Related Keys” debuted Aug. 27 at the International City Theatre in the Long Beach Performing Arts Center. The work tells the story of Julia (Sydney A. Mason), an intensely career-driven and Islamophobic Black attorney whose life changes when her Iraqi half sister suddenly arrives in her town. Although the play has been performed before, Graf said the new production features storyline changes and refocuses on the two young women.

“The play not only mirrors the current situation in Afghanistan, … but what’s going on in the country today as well … (with the) racial, religious, moral and political polarization,” Graf said.

Before rehearsals began, Graf said she did a major rewrite on top of the reworks she added last summer, which helped her add some new details to the play. She said she decided to pare it down, refocusing on the two main girls rather than the tangential path she had gone down for the first production and keeping in mind critiques received about the initial production.

[Related: UCLA Film & Television Archive to host virtual screening of “The War Widow”]

While Graf has been working on “Closely Related Keys” since 2012, alumnus Mason said the actors have been rehearsing since the past month. Given this difference in experience, Graf said her perspective with the play is very different from the perspective of the actors portraying it. For Mason, the timing of events occurring in the Middle East is what drew her to this story, in addition to personally identifying with her character.

“(Julia) sits very close with me personally, in just another profession, honestly,” Mason said. “This is if Sydney would have went to law school instead of theater school.”

During the few weeks of rehearsals, the actors undertook a variety of methods to prepare for their roles. Alumnus Nick Molari, who plays Julia’s white coworker Ron, said he watched videos of corporate attorneys discussing their lives and duties to prepare for the role. Meanwhile, Mason said she researched the law firm that her character represents, the trials mentioned and the overall political climate in which the play is set.

Molari said he was initially drawn to the story because of its focus on underrepresented voices such as the Black female lead. This play gives Molari the chance to step aside and let the voices of actors who have historically been underrepresented be in the spotlight, he said.

[Related: Alumnus, cinematographer contributes intimate visual language to ‘No Man of God’]

Each actor involved in the portrayal of the story has a different message they want audiences to take away from the play, such as Mason, who said she wants people to think about unconditional love within a family. Molari said he hopes the audience will be able to feel compassion for the experiences of Black people and those outside of the United States, specifically in the Middle East in light of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan.


“This play will be helpful to have (the audience) have an emotional connection to (Afghanistan) and not just a logical one – that they’re human beings that America has affected halfway across the world, and we owe stuff to them,” Molari said.

Ultimately, Graf said she wants audience members to think of the similarities people have with one another. When everyone leaves the theater, Graf said she hopes they will be inspired to look at their own viewpoints with an inquisitive eye and start to bridge the gaps between one another.

“Every human being experiences the same thing – they experience love, they experience loss, they experience pain – despite what country they come from, who they are, what their cultural identities are,” Graf said. “And that’s why I love the term ‘closely related keys’ – we all share many common tones.”

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Hayden Carroll
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