The first problem in writing about Quantum Theatre's production of Brahman/i is the pesky pronoun. There isn't one, at least not in standard English, for anyone who isn't a conventional he or she. The protagonist in Aditi Brennan Kapil's 2012 play is a hijra, an intersex Indian person born with both male and female genitalia and with like hormones. Since the character at various points wants to be known as "B," let's stick with that.
The second problem is that B's quasi-autobiographical "one-hijra stand-up comedy show" tells a tale of surprising tolerance as this adolescent explores gender identity and expression while in middle, then high school. In the real world of LGBT, such kids face near-homicidal hostility, not only embarrassing pranks and the occasional black eye. OK, let's call it dramatic license.
- Photo courtesy of Heather Mull
- Sanjiv Jhaveri in Quantum's Brahman/i
Brahman/i (the title refers to the masculine and feminine versions of B's name, and inspires a few puns) tackles many juxtapositions besides sexuality, especially the roles of colonizer vs. the colonized. Hey, I'm always ready to appreciate British and anti-British humor. We're also treated to India's memories extending beyond the mere historic to the geological, and large doses of Hindu mythology.
But the most remarkable part of Brahman/i, directed by Shishir Kurup, is the multi-faceted performance of Sanjiv Jhaveri as B, and any number of other characters, across time and space: men, women, children, British, American, Mughal Muslims and, of course, B's friends and relatives. It's a splendid performance, but Jhaveri's need to take a breath and/or a drink of water does impair the flow. In comedy, it's all in the timing.
David Bielewicz presents a nice surprise as B's "back-up," in more than one sense of the word. Scenic designer Britton Mark has cleverly converted a church-turned-community-center into a dive-ish comedy club. Do spend some time looking at the "posters" for other events at the "Temple of Comedy." Applause to the entire team, including assistant director Vince Ventura, who doubles as a yinzer opening act.
Brahman/i offers some insights, more than a few chuckles and some food for thought — including some very thoughtful and delectable Indian snacks.