South Asians star in play on post-9/11 paranoia

August 21st, 2011 - 11:22 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Aug 21 (IANS) “Who is Abulkasem?” Is he a character in a fairy tale, or an international super-spy? Is she a renowned auteur director? Does he or she pose a clear and present danger? And is there really more than one?

These are the questions one is left wondering about after watching “Invasion!”, billed as a subversive comedy about identity and stereotypes, centring on “Abulkasem”, a name mysteriously belonging to a wide assortment of characters in the play featuring South Asian origin actors Nick Choksi and Andrew Guilarte.

Swedish novelist and playwright Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s Obie Award-winning play “anatomizing lazy paranoia about the Middle East”, as The Village Voice put it, will have a return engagement Off-Broadway this fall coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks.

Scheduled through Oct 1, previews start Sep 6 prior to an official press opening Sep 13 at The Flea Theatre in Manhattan, where Play Company, an Off-Broadway theatre “producing a global programme of adventurous new plays by US and international playwrights” will be based for the 2011-12 season.

The group recently produced the US premiere of leading Indian playwright Vijay Tendulkar’s Marathi play “Sakharam Binder”.

Indian-American actor Choksi plays, among other roles, a guy named Arvind, “a troublemaker in his youth, a girl-shy adult, and a nerd through and through, no matter how much he pretends he isn’t”.

“It’s no surprise I’m playing this part, I’ve been practising being bad at picking up women my whole life,” Choksi told IANS.

Fellow South Asian actor Guilarte said all the four actors in the play “take on up to five different roles and that is the challenging thing about this play…and fun thing.

“The play is fast and furious. It starts with a bang and just unfolds from there with the actors transforming and hopping in and out of scenes at breakneck speed and even changing in front of the audience.”

Guilarte, who plays a range of characters, from funny to serious, Middle Eastern to American, considers his role as a Middle Eastern Apple Picker who doesn’t speak much English as one of the more challenging roles.

“I had to learn a monologue in Arabic which was extremely difficult. In the end it all came together and I had an amazing time performing in this play,” he said.

“Erica Schmidt, the director, is absolutely brilliant!” said Guilarte noting how “Erica worked really hard on making the play from Sweden feel like it belonged here”.

Choksi agreed. “I was so excited when I found out Erica Schmidt was directing; I had been a huge fan of hers for a while,” he said.

Founding Producer Kate Loewald said: “We’re very excited to be bringing it back …because the show asks important questions of all of us as we mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

“Jonas uses wit and theatricality to talk about serious racial and cultural divisions in our society.”

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at

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