The Kitchen Theatre Company opened its second show of this season on Oct 8th. Brahman/i, by multi-award winning playwright, actor/director Aditi Brennan Kapil, is the first of a trilogy of plays called “The Displaced Hindu Gods Trilogy”. Kapil is of Bulgarian and Indian descent, grew up in Sweden and now resides in Minneapolis.
Brahman/i is conceived as a one person, stand-up comedy show. The setting is a comedy club called The Laughing Stock Comedy Club complete with club style seating and table service during the show. In this production a second character was added – an electric bass player, ‘J’, executed by Thom Dunn, who mostly plays incidental music between “scenes” and has a few interactive speaking lines, presumably to add a little diversity and drama, giving the main character some breathing room during this 100 minute, non-stop show. Dunn is also credited with the sound design.
The main character is Brahman/i, or just ‘B’ (lots made of that nickname), whose name comes from the Hindu Brahman, of neuter gender (and that’s important), “a metaphysical concept of the single binding unity behind the diversity in all that exists in the universe”.
Gender is the central theme. ‘B’ was born with both male and female genitalia in Athens Georgia to Indian immigrant parents. Initially identifying as male, then switching to female when puberty arrives, then something in between or both later. This is fertile ground for exploring sex identification in the context of family and society, often very funny and uncomfortable at the same time.
Aila Peck plays ‘B’. She is a formidable talent with a strong resume, capable of fast-paced, multifaceted delivery. Peck portrays many characters that often interact, and her switching between them is quick and clear. She is very good with vocal styling and accents, and takes on the physicality of each character quite convincingly. Her portrayal of “Auntie”, a central character, is spot on and in great contrast to the hip, young, American boy character of ‘B’s youth. Peck designed her own costume; an androgynous, very casual, modern look.
The show exposes ‘B’s birth, replete with all the confusion that comes with a baby sporting both male a female parts. Humor seems most appropriate here as we often find it in situations that are uncomfortable. This confusion and discomfort continue throughout ‘B’s childhood. Our society is not constructed to know how to react to hermaphrodites. And ‘B’ has an epiphany with the conclusion that there are more than two sexualities – in ‘B’s case there are 12 to choose from, and “they” (pronoun of choice) explore many.
There were a few technical difficulties that have hopefully been ironed out in subsequent performances. The microphone seemed to be inferior and the mic stand was very low causing Peck to have to stoop to it. She fortunately took it off the stand most of the time. Also the equalization of the sound could have been better as I had some difficulty with intelligibility. I think not having a mic at all, or just using it as a prop would have worked better.
Direction is by M. Bevin O’Gara, who is also The Kitchen’s enthusiastic new artistic director. Directing a one-person show is a collaboration. One can assume an affinity between director and actor is a must. There is a blurred line between this show as a stand-up comedy routine and a play, yet O’Gara blended them well. There was enough visual interest offered by use of space and lighting.
Other credits go to Justin and Christopher Swader who together designed the set – a club with with a sign bearing the club’s name on the rear brick wall and not much else, yet it looked authentic. Annie Wiegand was responsible for the lighting. Jennifer Schilansky managed the stage.
Brahman/i certainly gets one thinking about gender roles, educates as it questions, all in a humorous framework. The subject matter is very timely in today’s world.