Goodman Theatre to Present Debut “Future Labs” Reading, Layalina by Martin Yousif Zebari

Layalina by Martin Yousif Zebari, the first play of Goodman Theatre’s Future Labs, makes its virtual debut, launching the theater’s newest effort to develop new plays. Directed by Azar Kazemi, Layalina examines how families maintain their love in the midst of turbulent global and social change. Future Labs develops works authored and directed by Black, Indigenous, Latinx, AAPI and other artists of color, curated by Quenna L. Barrett (Associate Director of Education and Engagement), Jonathan L. Green (Literary and New Works Manager) and Ken-Matt Martin (Associate Producer) and a Goodman Staff Evaluation Team composed of individuals of intersectional identities and in areas across the theater. The live virtual reading of Layalina streams on January 30.

“I wrote this play because I wanted SWANA (South West Asian, North African) voices to be given the agency we deserve in our own stories in the American Theater canon. I also wrote this play because Queer SWANA voices are often missing from most canons,” said Playwright Martin Yousif Zebari. “Layalina is a play about a family’s societal, familial and political survival, and resilience. It’s about the ways in which we help and harm the ones closest to us when our worlds seem to be crashing in on us. It’s fitting that my first workshop as a playwright is happening at the place I frequented as a starry-eyed high school theater student and where I worked my first big professional acting job. I’m so excited for everyone to witness Azar, whom I trust and admire dearly, and this amazing group of humans bring this play to life for the first time.”

In 2003, newlywed Layal plans a future with her family as they prepare to immigrate to the U.S. from Baghdad. Living just outside of Chicago 18 years later, Layal’s life and responsibilities look unimaginably different from what she had envisioned two decades before. Playwright Zebari continues work on Layalina, which was most recently developed with Jackalope Theatre’s Playwrights Lab, led by Calamity West, in late 2020. A ten-minute version of the same play previously appeared in Broken Nose Theatre’s Bechdel Fest at the Den Theatre (2017). As part of Future Labs, Layalina will receive a week-long workshop via Zoom, culminating in this free, virtual, public reading. This workshop will be led by the playwright and director, with support from Goodman Artistic and Production staff.

Designed primarily for Chicago-based writers who have not had a play produced at the Goodman, Future Labs will feature up to nine workshops and presentations, beginning with Layalina. Selected projects receive rehearsal time, artistic, dramaturgical and casting support and an optional free public reading. This new development series is the latest effort among the Goodman’s programs that support living writers and develop new plays—including New Stages, Playwrights Unit and more than two dozen individual artist commissions.

Playwright Martin Yousif Zebari (he/him) is an Iraqi-born, Assyrian-American multidisciplinary artist based in Chicago. In 2018, he directed Michael Allen Harris’ For the Culture as part of the same festival and costume designed Broken Nose Theatre’s production of The Opportunities of Extinction. As an actor, he has worked with Goodman Theatre (Yasmina’s Necklace and The Winter’s Tale), National Queer Theatre (Mosque4Mosque), The Angle Project (Unpitied/Lost and Guided), Steppenwolf Theatre (Guards at the Taj), and he’s appeared on NBC’s Chicago Med. Martin holds a BFA in Acting from the Arts University of Bournemouth, England and is represented by Stewart Talent Chicago.

Registration for this free event is required. For more information, visit

The Goodman has received generous support for this project from its New Work sponsors, including: Pritzker Pucker Family Foundation and the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, Major Support of New Work; Ruth D. and Ken M. Davee New Works Fund, Major Support of New Play Development; The Glasser and Rosenthal Family, Mayer Brown LLP, and Shaw Family Supporting Organization, Support of New Work.