Displaced Hindu Gods: A Trilogy Of Plays at Mixed Blood Theatre

Aditi Brennan Kapil‘s trilogy  Displaced Hindu Gods opens Mixed Blood Theatre‘s 2013-14 season; the plays run through Oct 27.  HowWasTheShow.com sent its three theater reviewers (Janet Preus, Dominic Orlando and John Olive) to cover the Oct 5 opening.  Each filed reviews:

 

Aditi Brennan Kapil in Brahman/i.  Photo by Rich Ryan.

Aditi Brennan Kapil in Brahman/i. Photo by Rich Ryan.

Brahmin/i  Reviewed by Janet Preus:

Brahman/i, subtitled “a one-hijra stand-up comedy show,” is the first play in Kapil’s “Displaced Hindu Gods Trilogy,” wherein Kapil mixes Hindu gods, an American milieau and, in the case of Brahman/i, gender identity. It’s an unusual and fascinating piece with that wondrous mix of funny, moving and murky.

The title character wants what all kids want: to be accepted by peers. Since Brahman/I is Indian, he’s already culturally different, but kids also think he’s just naturally funny, so he’s got an “in.” The bigger challenge is that Brahman/I isn’t really sure whether he is a girl or a boy.

Kapil’s androgynous, gum-chewing girl-dude wants to be called “B” by his peers, “because it’s so cool,” and constructs syllogisms about his anatomy in an effort to define his gender. Eventually, Brahman/i counts 12 gender options – and “don’t mess with an Indian on mathematics,” we’re cautioned, presents himself as a boy, until later in adolescence when he decides to live as a girl. I’m making an effort to provide a straightforward explanation when there isn’t one, which is one reason the play is so interesting.

By aligning her character with the Hindu god of creation (Brahman) in the triune diety, Kapil sets up the idea of Brahman/I’s self-creation on stage as a comic. She plays a lineup of characters (the most endearing is her aunt), flipping from one accent to another, tilting her head or pointing a finger – we know which character is speaking and quickly understand why each is important in Brahman/I’s “confessional.”

The play has plenty of laughs, but didn’t bring the spontaneous applause one might expect as each segment came to a close. Kapil’s rapid-fire delivery works but needed more breathing space during segments to point the lines and let us catch up. However, Kapil stepped in last minute when actor Debargo Sanyal was unable to perform opening weekend. She may know her own play, but pulling off an 80-minute standup routine on short notice is close to superhuman. She’s helped by bass player Peter Christian Hansen, who provides some musical snippets, a change of focus and – most significantly – evidence of an honest and solid relationship on her stage-life’s journey.

Kapil is a former Many Voices Fellow at the Playwright’s Center and calls Minneapolis home. The Center’s Artistic Director, Jeremy Cohen, directed.  Kapil, Cohen and Mixed Blood Theatre – that’s another notable triumvirate.

Recommended!

 

Lipica Shah in The Chronicles Of Kalki.  Photo by Rich Ryan.

Lipica Shah in The Chronicles Of Kalki. Photo by Rich Ryan.

The Chronicles Of Kalki reviewed by Dominic Orlando:

Two performances, one explosive, the other heartfelt, anchor the often meandering “Kalki”—part two of a trilogy of plays by Aditi Kapil now playing in rep at Mixed Blood Theatre.  I’ve been obsessed with religion since high school (a weird side-effect of rejecting Catholic programming), so it’s not the references to Hinduism that are throwing me off—in fact, those were some of my favorite moments, little morsels of spiritual humor one finds sadly lacking in most contemporary theatre, where writers taking on religious issues often have a sharp sense of institutional abuses and cultural hypocrisy but no sense at all of the actual spiritual systems being portrayed.

No, talk of turtles and illusions to Krishna are the highlights, along with Lipica Shah’s sexy, charismatically complex interpretation of the title character.  In short skirt and tights, Ms Shah’s (and Ms Kapil’s) Kalki has many qualities, as Seinfeld would put it, “prized by the superficial man”—but that’s part of her incarnation:  a smart, seductive huntress, descending on a couple of high school students who spend most of the play trying to figure out what to make of this female meteor come crashing into their world. Ms Shah hits the various notes Kapil has laid out for her without any sense of strain—rushing up and down the gamut of human behavior like an opera diva practicing her scales.  It’s a bravura performance, all the more so for giving us no sense of the actor underneath—there’s only Kalki.

Though Kalki is sexually drawn to one of the students (the capable Jocetta Wright), she plays a deeper and more complicated game with the other, drawing a tremulous perfor-mance from Cat Brindisi, whose marvelously expressive face and voice compress all the agonies of high school into her every moment.  Why Kalki pays so much attention to one student but reserves her kisses for the other is not quite clear—in fact, aside from a riveting recollection of schoolyard humiliation, the contemporary story Kalki incarnates into doesn’t really hold together—best to concentrate on the relationship between the three women, and enjoy Lipica Shah’s Minneapolis Avatar while she lasts.

 

richryan-28004Shiv reviewed by John Olive:

The professor in Shiv (in a nice understated turn by seasoned vet Nathaniel Fuller) levels a devastating accusation at Shivrati’s deceased Bapu: that he appropriated the work of another writer and attempted to pass it off as his own.  Shivrati (aka Shiv) and her friend Gerard are oddly silent, neither denying nor confirming the claim.  Could it be true?  Or is the professor, as we suspect, a pompous liar?  In either case, the motif goes nowhere and the confusion this causes is symptomatic of this frustrating piece.

Shiv‘s simple story – of Shiv traveling to the American midwest, renting the carriage house at the address of Bapu’s lit magazine nemesis, meeting Gerard – is overlaid with rich theatricality.  Kites, stars, imaginary sailing ships.  Still too much of Shiv is fitfully developed.

Certainly the play is chock-full of pleasures: the sexual charge between Shiv and Gerard (played by the always-terrific Peter Christian Hansen) is wonderful; the ache developed beween them will make you want to be young again.  As Shiv’s story-spinning Bapu, Andrew Guilarte is exquisite.  Sweet and simultaneously edgy, he is utterly convincing as a poet.  The connection he makes between the “well-meaning imperialists” of Star Trek and the nation of India is hilarious.

And of course, there’s Lipica Shah as Shivrati, working wonders with a very difficult role.  Her work could have been diffuse and vague, but Shah stays focused and intoxicating, well-connected to Shiv’s yearning.  The sun-drying of the bed linen thrills.  The love she feels for her Bapu is powerfully rendered.  And, as the name Shiv suggests, she generates knife-like power.

But: why does Shiv travel to “27 Lake Road?”  She has, apparently, an agenda; what is it?  Why does her Bapu obsess on this rejection (when we know that writers could paper their houses twice over with rejection letters).  Bapu sees himself as a minor poet writing in Punjab, a “second rate” language.  And yet, we are told, his work is taught in schools.  How did this happen?  The overuse of blackouts and a not-always-clear back-and-forth-in-time structure exasperates.  What is going on in the (extensive) final scenes?

Shiv contains real passion and a real story is being told.  I believe this potentially lovely play needs time – and serious reworking.

 

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