This hilarious stand-up comedy routine/play takes on history, mythology, gender roles, and high school through the inimitable comic lens of Brahman/i, a boy/girl tethered by neither gender nor culture, and wildly curious and inventive in his/her examination of both.
[Part of the DISPLACED HINDU GODS Trilogy: A trilogy of plays loosely based on the trinity of Hindu deities- Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva- displaced into contemporary immigrants in the West. Each play is in a different style: stand-up comedy routine, girl-gang thriller, post-colonial fantasy. Each play can stand alone, but they co-exist in a common universe where displacement, identity, post-coloniallism, puberty, are explored through the lenses of creation, survival, and destruction.]
Ruth Easton New Play Series, Playwrights' Center, Minneapolis, MN- May 2012
Bay Area Playwrights Festival, Playwrights Foundation, San Francisco, CA- July 2012
La Jolla Playhouse DNA New Play Series, La Jolla, CA- February 2013
PREMIERE: Mixed Blood Theatre, October 2013
photo by Rich Ryan, Mixed Blood Theatre 2013
Debargo Sanyal and Aditi Kapil, Playwrights' Center, 2012
"Playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil bites off a hefty chunk with these works, exploring everything from her Indian heritage to gender fluidity to the cultural impact of imperialism ... to craft three independent, fully realized stories." -Ed Huyck, City Pages
"You should see these plays. Great writing, great direction, great design, great acting." -Matthew A Everett, Daily Planet
"Brahman/i" goes for the funny bone and "Kalki" for the adrenalin glands, "Shiv" is a play aimed straight at the heart." -Rob Hubbard, St. Paul Pioneer Press
"... wow, look what words can do, look what actors can do, look what live theater can still do when you gather a bunch of people in the dark to hear a story told well." -Matthew A. Everett
"Full of sharp observations, heartbreaking truths, hilariously-told anecdotes, and entertaining takes on the history of the colonisation of India, Brahman/i deserves your time. " -Liz Byron, Aisle Say
"An extended standup routine about a character's uneasy journey between being a boy and being a girl could be a tough sell, but Kapil's script is as fluid as the main character" -Ed Huyck, City Pages
"Defiantly embracing both sides of her/himself as Brahman/i grows into adulthood, the stand-up act becomes a hilarious manifesto. Then suddenly blossoming out of this anger is an unexpected love story." -Matthew A. Everett, Daily Planet
'Displaced Hindu Gods' Trilogy is a fine showcase for playwright's broad range of experiences
By Rob Hubbard
Aditi Brennan Kapil might be the ideal fit as playwright-in-residence at Minneapolis' Mixed Blood Theatre. The company has been expanding audiences' horizons since the '70s, allowing them to climb briefly into the lives of people whose experiences might be quite different from their own. Mixed Blood brings the nebulous concept of multiculturalism to vivid life, having among its core values making "the broadest range of human differences acceptable to the largest number of people."
Kapil brings a broad range of experiences to bear on her playwriting, as a woman of Indian and Bulgarian descent who was raised in Sweden and now lives in Minneapolis. It's the Indian strand of her DNA that gets the attention in a magnum opus trilogy receiving its premiere at Mixed Blood. "Displaced Hindu Gods" uses the three deities of that religion -- Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva -- as a jumping-off point for some magical realism about gender identity, teen angst and anxieties and the cultural metamorphosis that comes with emigration.
The three 80- to 90-minute plays can be experienced individually -- "The Chronicles of Kalki" runs on Wednesday evenings, "Shiv" on Thursdays and "Brahman/i" on Fridays -- or you can spend a Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon with all three of them, which adds up to five hours in the theater. But the shows are engaging and briskly paced enough to make that a very rewarding experience, as I found when doing so on Twin Cities Marathon Sunday.
For these shows, the Mixed Blood auditorium has been refashioned to feel something like a nightclub, with a bar at the back and little candlelit tables interspersed amid the seating. That works well for "Brahman/i," which is a stand-up comedy routine that, on opening weekend, was performed by the author. She will be alternating performances with Debargo Sanyal, but Kapil proved fascinating company as she riffed in funny fashion about Asia as dysfunctional family, the war on science in Galileo's time and the orgies depicted on the walls of Hindu temples.
But the central issue is how the teen years are navigated by someone of indeterminate gender like the god Brahman. Being pressured to make a choice between living as a boy or girl, the spiky-haired, black-clad comic in combat boots gives each a try and spins smile-inducing stories about her trek down each path. Kapil proved so good at this that it's hard to believe that she's not a seasoned stand-up artist.
Kapil offers hilarious whirlwind takes on the creation of Stonehenge, the naming of Mount Everest and. best of all, a thumbnail "Mahabharata," complete with romantic subplots and action sequences. And she introduces us to an intriguing mentor of an "Auntie" who helps Brahman find firmer footing when addressing his/her issues with gender and being Indian.
It's the only section of the trilogy that could be characterized as a comedy, and the Mixed Blood folks seemed to recognize its appeal when making it the most often-performed play on the schedule, with an additional late show on Saturdays. That's when comedians often work in their "blue" material, but it's hard to get much bluer than those bas-relief orgies.
THEATER REVIEW | "Displaced Hindu Gods" at Mixed Blood Theatre: Two-and-a-half amazing plays
Lipica Shah in The Chronicles of Kalki. Photo by Rich Ryan, courtesy Mixed Blood Theatre.
As a playwright, there's something both inspiring and depressing about seeing a really good production of a really good new play.
Inspiring is probably obvious—wow, look what words can do, look what actors can do, look what live theater can still do when you gather a bunch of people in the dark to hear a story told well.
Depressing? Well, as much as you try to live by that age-old advice of not comparing yourself to others and being your own measure of your talent and success, those old demons envy and jealousy creep in any chance they get. Look at that amazing thing happening over there. Why can't I have that? Why don't I have that? The feeling passes, if you're vigilant, but you'd be less than honest if you said it wasn't there. It's a bad idea to compare yourself to other people because someone's always doing "better," someone's always doing "worse." It's a false comparison, apples and oranges, etc.
"Back me up, gentlemen. Being the oppressor is fun."
Seeing the trilogy of new plays from Aditi Kapil produced by Mixed Blood Theatre, Displaced Hindu Gods, all in one marathon sitting? Take those warring feelings of inspiration and depression; now double them; now almost triple them. Kapil and Mixed Blood and Displaced Hindu Gods had my writer spirits soaring and crashing all night long. There are two-and-a-half amazing plays here. That last half of a play is bewildering, but it doesn't undo the enormous amount of good going on the rest of the night.
"The rest are all in black and white, unless they're bleeding."
It should be noted that you're not required to strap in for all three plays at once. Audiences will certainly get some added bonuses from that prolonged experience, but each of the three plays is a full story in its own right, not dependent on the others for understanding or satisfaction. In fact, there are pluses to taking them one at a time as well, not the least of which is that you have time to let each story and its characters marinate and roll around in your head and heart a little before you dive in for more. You'll definitely want to see more than one, and even though my heart is a little divided on one of these plays, I'd still recommend seeing all three. To be honest, I'd kind of like to see all three again myself, each for its own reason. But it's high time I got specific, so…
In Displaced Hindu Gods, playwright Kapil takes the trinity of Hindu deities Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva and spins a different tale in a different genre around each one of them. In Brahman/i: A One-Hijra Stand-Up Comedy Show (directed by Jeremy Cohen), the hermaphrodite god, both woman and man at once, takes the stage as a stand-up comedian, sharing a rapid-fire litany of jokes centered on the difficulties of what it was like growing up first as a boy, and later as a girl, to neither of whom the high school years are kind. Defiantly embracing both sides of her/himself as Brahman/i grows into adulthood, the stand-up act becomes a hilarious manifesto. Then suddenly blossoming out of this anger is an unexpected love story.
"You Westerners with your true love and your feelings and your happiness."
Kapil herself alternates performing the role of Brahman/i with Debargo Sanyal. Impressed still more now with Kapil's apparently limitless skills seeing her on stage opening night, I'd be curious to see the play again with Sanyal as well, just to see what the physical presence of a man in the role does to the dynamics of the relationship both with the audience and Brahman/i's electric-guitar-playing straight man J (Peter Christian Hansen).
"I may have a penis and a vagina but at least I'm not this moron."
An extended monologue is difficult enough to compose in such a way that it remains compelling throughout. Turning that monologue into a comedy routine that's actually funny—and about something—that's all the more daunting a task. The fact that Kapil not only pulls off the trick on the page but also can present it in person onstage makes it all the more amazing.
"Anytime, my intersexual friend."
See any one of Displaced Hindu Gods. Better yet, see all of them—together, spaced out over several nights, doesn't matter. You should see these plays. Great writing, great direction, great design, great acting. All three stories are very different in style and tone, but they all have a smart sense of humor driving them, which makes them entertaining as well as thought-provoking. I'd say it's a great immersion in another culture, but let's face it, at this point it's part of American culture; so it's high time we got to know ourselves a little better. The Displaced Hindu Gods trilogy is a great way to do that.
(Thanks, Aditi Kapil. I'm going to go write a play now. Or two. Or three.)
Brahman/i: A One-Hijra Stand-Up Comedy Show is one of a trilogy of plays by local playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil being premiered by Mixed Blood Theatre. The series is called Displaced Hindu Gods, and also includes pieces The Chronicles of Kalki and Shiv; all three plays are based around the concept of the trinity of Hindu gods (Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva) as people, displaced into contemporary USA.
Brahman/i is set as a stand-up comedy act, with the titular character accompanied on stage only by a bass guitarist, a brick wall, a microphone, and a bottle of water. In fact, you may find that you need to remind yourself throughout the performance that this is a scripted play, not a piece of ad-libbed stand-up. This speaks strongly to both the writing and the acting; Aditi Kapil‘s script flows naturally and is so full of personal confessions, observations, and opinions, that it is almost hard to believe that the person on stage is not Brahman/i. There are two actors who alternate in their portrayals of the main character; we saw the piece performed by the playwright, Kapil, herself, but in alternate performances the role is taken on by Debargo Sanyal.
The story is simultaneously simple and complex. Simple: Brahman/i tells the story of their childhood and adolescence, their observations of the world, and their voyage to answer that universal question, “Where do I fit in?” See? Simple. And yet, complex: Brahman (male name)/Brahmani (female name) is an intersex person and the child of immigrants from India. That is, Brahman/i is a person who doesn’t fit into mainstream culture in at least two significant ways, and has to answer not only internal questions, but questions from the outside world: Are you a boy or a girl? Are you an immigrant, a foreigner like your parents, or are you like us, American, and disassociated from your family?
Kapil’s script keeps up a rapid pace, which might get tiresome or feel manic if it did not move so easily from Brahman/i’s personal narrative and their musings on history, mythology, culture, and gender. It is a risky move, to stage a stand-up comedy routine that occasionally visits some very serious, very personal territory, but it works in this context, because you know that Brahman/i survived adolescence and has gone on to tell the tale as comedy.
Aditi Kapil does an amazing job as Brahman/i. We did leave wondering how a different actor would affect the performance; Kapil comes off as a not-girly-but-decidedly-feminine Brahman/i, and at least based on the press images, the other actor, Debargo Sanyal seems to present in a more masculine way. If you see Sanyal in this piece, let us know! The other actor in the play, Peter Christian Hansen as J, is mostly there for musical back-up, and occasionally as a human prop. At first he seemed so stoic and unemotional that we wondered if he was actually an actor, or just a guitarist roped into sitting on stage, but ultimately, we decided he meant to be that way, and did a good job anchoring the show.
Displaced Hindu Gods – all three plays — are presented by Mixed Blood Theatre, which has a slew if accompanying community involvement events, including audience forums and panel discussions. Mixed Blood also seeks to revolutionize community access to theatre by “Radical Hospitality” , which provides no-cost admission to all performances to anyone who wishes. They also, of course, gratefully accept donations, and no-cost admission is first-come, first-served. You can also guarantee a seat to any performance for $20. This isn’t specific to Brahman/i or the other shows in the trilogy, but it is worth mentioning, since it is, as far as we know, a unique concept in the Twin Cities, and one worth letting folks know about.
Full of sharp observations, heartbreaking truths, hilariously-told anecdotes, and entertaining takes on the history of the colonisation of India, Brahman/i deserves your time. How can you resist a show in which the statement, “Denied of pornography, I turned to Aristotelian logic!” is uttered to describe the emotional explorations of a sixth-grader? You can’t, and you shouldn’t. This one is well worth seeing.
Ambitious Displaced Hindu Gods fulfills mission
The trio of plays from Aditi Brennan Kapil shows modern myth-making
Displaced Hindu Gods — three new, interconnected works by a single playwright presented in repertory — is an incredibly ambitious undertaking for a theater. It also poses quite a challenge for the audience, who, on weekends, can take in all three works in a single marathon evening.
Playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil bites off a hefty chunk with these works, exploring everything from her Indian heritage to gender fluidity to the cultural impact of imperialism, while also working to craft three independent, fully realized stories.
The three distinct works each take on one of the three key deities of Hinduism. The characters are earthly incarnations of the Brahman, Kalki, and Shiva, and though they exist in a modern world reshaped by centuries of change, they retain their primal powers. The actors and directors craft complete and engaging worlds in each piece, and the different storytelling methods set the plays apart from one another: Brahman/I is primarily a one-person show presented as a standup routine, The Chronicles of Kalki uses flashbacks to tell its tale, and Shiv merges the "real" and imagined into a complex web.
Brahman/I: A one-hijra stand-up comedy show, directed by Jeremy Cohen, centers on the story of one hijra — which, in India, refers to a gender-fluid individual, and in Brahman's case, manifests as a hermaphrodite. An extended standup routine about a character's uneasy journey between being a boy and being a girl could be a tough sell, but Kapil's script is as fluid as the main character. Playwright Kapil also steps up for Brahman/I in a more visible way, as she shares the run with actor Debargo Sanyal, who fell ill late in the rehearsal process.
A lot of Brahman/I takes place in high school, as does The Chronicles of Kalki, directed by Bruce A. Young. The two works fit together like pieces of a puzzle, focusing heavily on identity, sexuality, and the assigned roles we often find ourselves trapped in.