Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Start with a 9-year-old Indian-American child, add teen angst, Hindu theology, tectonic plates, the history of Stonehenge a la Monty Python, colonial and sexual oppression and Galileo’s preserved middle finger — all framed in gender confusion — and what do you get?
A lot of questions, and like the character in Quantum’s “Brahman/i,” mostly indeterminate answers. Staged as a standup comedy routine, “Brahman/i”cq – it turns out it’s only capitalized when it’s all caps/se is a Mulligatawny Soup that wants to please all of its tasters but leaves them unpleasantly stuffed to the gills.
This soup’s cook is playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil, and this is the first course in a three-course meal of plays called the “DISPLACED HINDU GODS trilogy” (her punctuation).
First, at two hours, it’s too long. Then it bounces from place to place, moving in and out of focus on Topic No. 1, the struggle of an ambiguously sexual person to choose boyhood or girlhood while working through the legacy of ancient Hindu traditions and customs as an American. See what I mean?
In Brahman/i’s ancestral India, these people are called hijra, and they hold a special place in society. Known here as intersex, they do not hold a particularly special place. Instead, they must struggle mightily to find their role, as Brahman/i does, using the context of standup comedy.
It’s an exhausting part to play. New York-based actor Sanjiv Jhaveri burns through the two hours with a few short breaks as he plays both men and women of many ages, using accents from the Deep South to Vienna with long stops in England and India. He delivers a great performance with few inconsistencies, backed by David Bielewicz on guitar, rim shots and sound effects, with some Queen songs tossed around as well.
Mr. Bielewicz’s character slowly emerges from sideman to participant in Brahman/i’s bid for identity and acceptance, leading to a pat conclusion that was unexpected amid the observations about gender roles and their similarities to colonialism. (Well, that’s the best I could come up with.)
The Garfield Community Center has been changed into a nightclub scene with tables, a bar serving beer and milky chai I added the chai; that’s how it was listed, but it was milky/se tea and a warm-up act by Vince Ventura, who doubles as assistant director to director Shishir Kurup, a member of the Cornerstone Theater Company of Los Angeles.
“Brahman/i” is also Quantum being Quantum, a company that does not shy away from challenging theater, and this production is in-your-face challenging.