by LIZ BYRON
Brahman/i: A One-Hijra Stand-Up Comedy Show is one of a trilogy of plays by local playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil being premiered by Mixed Blood Theatre. The series is called Displaced Hindu Gods, and also includes pieces The Chronicles of Kalki and Shiv; all three plays are based around the concept of the trinity of Hindu gods (Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva) as people, displaced into contemporary USA.
Brahman/i is set as a stand-up comedy act, with the titular character accompanied on stage only by a bass guitarist, a brick wall, a microphone, and a bottle of water. In fact, you may find that you need to remind yourself throughout the performance that this is a scripted play, not a piece of ad-libbed stand-up. This speaks strongly to both the writing and the acting; Aditi Kapil‘s script flows naturally and is so full of personal confessions, observations, and opinions, that it is almost hard to believe that the person on stage is not Brahman/i. There are two actors who alternate in their portrayals of the main character; we saw the piece performed by the playwright, Kapil, herself, but in alternate performances the role is taken on by Debargo Sanyal.
The story is simultaneously simple and complex. Simple: Brahman/i tells the story of their childhood and adolescence, their observations of the world, and their voyage to answer that universal question, “Where do I fit in?” See? Simple. And yet, complex: Brahman (male name)/Brahmani (female name) is an intersex person and the child of immigrants from India. That is, Brahman/i is a person who doesn’t fit into mainstream culture in at least two significant ways, and has to answer not only internal questions, but questions from the outside world: Are you a boy or a girl? Are you an immigrant, a foreigner like your parents, or are you like us, American, and disassociated from your family?
Kapil’s script keeps up a rapid pace, which might get tiresome or feel manic if it did not move so easily from Brahman/i’s personal narrative and their musings on history, mythology, culture, and gender. It is a risky move, to stage a stand-up comedy routine that occasionally visits some very serious, very personal territory, but it works in this context, because you know that Brahman/i survived adolescence and has gone on to tell the tale as comedy.
Aditi Kapil does an amazing job as Brahman/i. We did leave wondering how a different actor would affect the performance; Kapil comes off as a not-girly-but-decidedly-feminine Brahman/i, and at least based on the press images, the other actor, Debargo Sanyal seems to present in a more masculine way. If you see Sanyal in this piece, let us know! The other actor in the play, Peter Christian Hansen as J, is mostly there for musical back-up, and occasionally as a human prop. At first he seemed so stoic and unemotional that we wondered if he was actually an actor, or just a guitarist roped into sitting on stage, but ultimately, we decided he meant to be that way, and did a good job anchoring the show.
Displaced Hindu Gods — all three plays — are presented by Mixed Blood Theatre, which has a slew if accompanying community involvement events, including audience forums and panel discussions. Mixed Blood also seeks to revolutionize community access to theatre by “Radical Hospitality” , which provides no-cost admission to all performances to anyone who wishes. They also, of course, gratefully accept donations, and no-cost admission is first-come, first-served. You can also guarantee a seat to any performance for $20. This isn’t specific to Brahman/i or the other shows in the trilogy, but it is worth mentioning, since it is, as far as we know, a unique concept in the Twin Cities, and one worth letting folks know about.
Full of sharp observations, heartbreaking truths, hilariously-told anecdotes, and entertaining takes on the history of the colonisation of India, Brahman/i deserves your time. How can you resist a show in which the statement, “Denied of pornography, I turned to Aristotelian logic!” is uttered to describe the emotional explorations of a sixth-grader? You can’t, and you shouldn’t. This one is well worth seeing.
Brahman/i by Aditi Kapil. October 5-27, 2013 at Mixed Blood Theatre, 1501 S 4th St, Minneapolis. Tickets no-cost, $20 for guaranteed seating, and donations gladly accepted. Tickets and more info at http://www.mixedblood.com or (612) 338-6131.