The story of Hanna Jokhoe (Anna Khaja) begins at the age of five, when Hanna spent her days frolicking about the countryside of her homeland of Guyana. The youngest and only girl of three siblings, her days were filled with puddle fights and toe-tipping in the river with her brothers. Hanna’s first taste of a less than perfect world came with the death of her mother. Surrendered by her father and bequeathed to a loving aunt and uncle, little Hanna and her two brothers would travel to America, where she is expected to assimilate into her new family’s Muslim community, and eventually an obedient wife.
This new community with her Auntie was warm and welcoming and she soon loved her new mother with the same intensity as she had loved her first. Until once again, the cruelty of life rears its ugly head. Hanna experienced her first and most profound lessons about religious prejudice on the day of the September 11th attacks. Like most of the New York Muslim community, the aftermath of the attacks is not kind to Hanna’s family. So it was with some reluctance that Hanna expresses her interest in going to college and her growing interest in photography. Photography would awaken the passion in her life. She would discover her passion for capturing images, and she would have her first encounter with physical and emotional attraction – to a woman.
At 18, Hanna is wedded thru a pre-arranged marriage. As much as she tried to resist her newfound passion for the same sex, which her new husband eventually discovers, and all the walls of her world come tumbling down. What is a girl to do when her family uniformly disowns her and her own beloved religion of Islam sees her as an abomination, a thing so horrible that her native tongue does not even give it a name?
No Word in Guyanese for Me is a one-woman show that deftly deconstructs the visceral experience of coming to emotional maturity. Khaja’s performance embodies the complicated entanglements of righteousness, sexuality and identity. It is a journey to maturity and self-awareness, which leads her to a life less ordinary. The piece, written by Wendy Graf, explores a fairly universal dilemma for the religiously devout LGBT community. Both heartbreaking and heartwarming, this show graciously explores the individual struggle in the love of God and the love of self; and just how much of a say the outside world should have in defining those acutely personal relationships.
Sidewalk Studio Theatre is the perfect size for this young woman’s tale of two journeys. With costume changes as minimal as a hairband or a significant scarf, actress Anna Khaja needs very little help transporting the audience from place and time, between character and emotion. Personally, I could have used even less of the music. While tunes do help with transitions and defining locale, again, director Anita Khanzadian’s fine pacing and smart modulation of Khaja’s performance needs little help in taking us where we need to go.
No Word in Guyanese for Me continues it’s run through June 25, 2011 at:
Sidewalk Studio Theatre
4150 W. Riverside Drive #D
Burbank, CA 91505-4149
Ticket Information: 800-838-3006
Photo Credit: Carla Barnett