NakYouOut – Last Friday was the opening night of Quantum Theatre’s Brahman/i, a one-hijra stand up comedy show (by definition, a hijra refers to an individual born with both male and female genitalia). The former church, which now serves as a community center in Garfield, was transformed into the Temple of Comedy, decorated with red and gold velvet curtains cascading along the walls for a charming Temple-esque feel. A snuggly crowd sat cabaret-style, drinks and appetizers at hand.
At 8PM, Brahman/i, played by Indian-American actor, Sanjiv Jhaveri, grabbed our attention from the back of the Temple. He weaved through the tables, poking light fun at audience members before stepping onto the stage. His tight black pants were just loose enough around the genital area, gently billowing in a way that tickled my desire to know what lay beneath, looking for what may be a fork or a spoon or perhaps a spork of some sorts. His costume alone pressed the issue at hand, addressing ambiguity and reminding the audience to get comfortable with being curious to no end.
Brahman/i is part of a trilogy written by Aditi Brennan Kapil based on the Hindu Trinity of Lords: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. In a video discussing the development of the play, Kapil says that she’s “taken these Gods and displaced them into the bodies of contemporary immigrants in the U.S.” The play began with teenage Brahman/i reliving his most mortifying moment in high school that led to an ongoing, self-questioning angst about his own sexual and gender identity. Extending far beyond that, the play addresses issues of religion, science, mythology, history, culture, language, and gender through a nontraditional comedic lens. With smart, satirical dialogue, Kapil loves to denounce European power and white supremacy with humoristic impressions and clever tales of, say, how Mount Everest got its name. While it might not make you laugh yourself silly—although the crowd sure was chuckling along—it’s brilliantly provoking, probing the audience to rethink socially constructed ideas of the science versus social in sex and gender performance.
Lead actor, Sanjiv Jhaveri was a chameleon. He embodied over a dozen characters in an hour and 45 minutes, charismatic no matter the role. He acted out conversations with two or three people, switching back and forth from a cynical intersex teenager, to a loony Indian Aunt, and more. His many accents were impressive, heightened with the exaggerated absurdity that comedy often presents.
Despite all the comedic satire, the most fascinating aspect of the show was more serious and closer to home. For the majority of the play, the light and sound director sat quietly on the left side of the stage with his electric guitar and sound board. He remained almost invisible to the audience; that is, until Brahman/i (although it was unclear whether he was in character or not) addressed him for the first time. Calling him by the name of J, he made a jabbing remark that J was doing the lights wrong. Brahman/i and J gave each other a frustrated look that masked the room with an awkward silence before the play continued, leaving the audience a little confused at what had just happened. Over the course of the play, J, played by actor David Bielewicz, became more and more involved as a character with a real, yet undefined relationship with Brahman/i that kept the audience wondering until the end.
Brahman/i envelopes themes that are widely universal about identity, self-acceptance, and trying to fit in. It’s important in this day and age, as gender and sex are becoming more understood as a spectrum rather than a binary. The play can be enjoyed by most ages, although children should be forewarned, as the play talks explicitly about sex and pornography with some stimulating visuals.
Brahman/i is both challenging and heartwarming, an unlikely combination that is worth seeing due to the talented actors. Throughout the play, we are constantly reminded that while identity can be messy and often inconclusive, those who love us will still always love our quirky imperfections…