Editor’s Note: The following review has been revised to correct several inaccuracies, including a major plot point and character and actor names. We apologize for the mistakes.

Review | ‘Breaking the Code’ Explores Personal and Cultural Differences

Claudia McGarry’s Romantic Comedy Returns to Ventura on September 26

Credit: Courtesy

An insecure 50-year-old widowed playwright meets a fretful Pakistani-born Realtor less than half her age. Though the two take a liking to each other, their socio-cultural differences and, more comically, constant interference by their overbearing families conspire to embroil the would-be lovers in frustration and emotional turmoil. But because the play is a romantic comedy, the problems serve to forge a more self-realized relationship, and the ending is a happy one; nobody drinks poison or knifes their own heart. 

Though billed as a romantic comedy, the play written by Claudia McGarry is as much about the effect of Christy (Shelly Best) and Moutaz’s (Gul Saeed) mutual attraction on their own respective worlds — work, cultural upbringing, and, above all, their familial relationships — as it is about the romance itself. 

The confluence of events that drives the narrative forces the characters to directly confront unspoken grievances and bottled-up insecurities, such as the tensions between Christy and her blunderingly garrulous sister Rana (Heather Terbil) over the latter’s deceased husband. Moutaz struggles to escape the shadow of his domineering mother Jumila (Marlene K. Matosian), whose matchmaking schemes (largely explained over the telephone) reaped the most comedic rewards. 

Christy’s assertive daughter Toni (Shari Howard) looks after her frazzled mother as best she can but unwittingly lands Christy and Moutaz in an awkward situation that quickly unravels. Melinda Yohe and Bill Egan provide the voices for Christy’s friend Linda and a very persistent medical telemarketer, respectively. 

There are a few times when the script tries too hard to insert a witticism that seems out of place or a little corny. Many other asides, however, do provide welcome insights into the characters, who each uniquely contribute as comic or dramatic focal points. Breaking the Code lands the biggest impact when the dialogue flows with the story, letting the comedy emerge naturally from everyday people reacting to an absurd sequence of events.

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