Obie-award winning “Invasion!” is a powerful and timely exposé of ethnic and racial profiling, and of that well-worn path of shortcuts in thinking that fall under the rubric of stereotype.
For those of us who seek out small Chicago theater to spark thoughts in new directions, Silk Road Rising’s “Invasion!” delivers this with perfect comic timing and a flawless performance. We laugh frequently and hard such that the underlying tragedy in this story accumulates below our in-the-moment radar.
But it does gather, without the convenience of a linear narrative story, culminating in an homage to the suicides and sufferings of emigrés or would-be emigrés from the Arab world.
It is likely that some theater-goers will be put off by the script’s avoidance of a linear story line.
The device that holds it together is the reappearance of the name Abulkasem. “Ablukasem”, found in the Tales of 1001 Arabian Nights, becomes a noun, a verb, an adjective and a focal point for the stories depicting the paranoia that all Arabs must navigate past to live in America post 9/11.
For those expecting stages to show a story told with a dramatic climax and a transformation in one or more characters this is not your play. But for many of us, “Abulkasem” serves as a poetic ribbon that aptly ties it all together.
Somewhere in the middle of giggling at three pundits on an infotainment TV panel debate discuss the fabled Islamic terrorist, Abulkasem, it will hit you like a sledgehammer that there is a hair’s width of difference between this lampoon and what we all have seen on TV repeatedly since September 11. In the most able hands of playwright Jonas Hassen Khemiri, translator Rachel Wilson-Broyles and director Anna Bahow, you will dwell in this zone for 80 uninterrupted minutes where farce meets tragedy in the deconstruction, sometimes quite literal, of the West’s stereotype of the Arab man.
“Invasion!” provides no escape from the cruelties and us vs. them box that Arabs in America find themselves in. Instead we meet characters like the innocent apple picker who hopes a translator will help him better tell his story. Instead of presenting his humble humanity she conjures from whole cloth a pastiche of terrorist stereotypes that culminate with “My goal—to murder as many defenseless Jews as possible.”
With lines like that you might imagine that this is a heavy-handed ideological rant. It is anything but that. Playwright Kemiri does make searing political commentary but with a fast-paced alteration between tragic and comic moments that above all keeps you engaged.
No small part of “Invasion!”’s ability to engage comes from its stellar cast –understudy Omer Abbas Salem, Kamal Hans, Glenn Stanton, and Amira Sabbagh. These four actors play numerous roles and handle quick conversions from one persona to another seamlessly. As if to safeguard his actors from our stereotyping minds that “Invasion!” lays bare, the playwright names these parts “A”, “B”, “C” and “D”. The actors’ roles require great flexibility and they are all up to the task. It was especially noteworthy that we could not discern who was the understudy until we combed through the playbill and program notes.
“Invasion!” is being performed in the intimate space of the Chicago Temple basement theater, with a minimalist set that facilitates keeping language and story-telling center stage.
The seats are limited and the run is relatively short—until September 1.
Go see “Invasion!” with your most thoughtful friends who will help you savor deconstructing the deconstruction. Alas, we will all likely reference this play quite often because the painful stereotypes it lays bare don’t seem to be going away any time soon.
Performances through September 15, 2013
Thursdays: 7:30 pm
Fridays: 8:00 pm
Saturdays: 4:00 pm
Sundays: 4:00 pm
Location: Pierce Hall at The Historic Chicago Temple Building, 77 West Washington Street (lower level)
Ticket price: $35.00
To purchase tickets visit www.silkroadrising.org or call 312-857-1234 x 201.
Photos by Michael Brosilow
Videos edited by Deann Bake