Exploring the psychological residue of post-colonialism, "Shiv" is a fantastical journey to liberation from one's past, from one's present, and of the destruction that makes rebirth possible.
[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.]
Playwrights Center workshop, 2009;
Mixed Blood Theatre trilogy workshop, May 2013.
PREMIERE: Mixed Blood Theatre, October 2013
"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
"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
"It's a piece of magical realism that has a lot more realism than magic, unless you count the magic that excellently executed theater can create." -Rob Hubbard, St. Paul Pioneer Press
'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.
In this series of shows about gods taking human form, "Shiv" is the one most tightly tethered to human frailty and making one's way without direct divine intervention. It's a piece of magical realism that has a lot more realism than magic, unless you count the magic that excellently executed theater can create.
Some will find this little family drama too slow-paced, but I was touched by the vividly rendered relationship between a girl becoming a young American woman and the Indian father who nurtures, inspires and, eventually, disappoints her. The fantastical emerges periodically, especially when young Shivatri uses her mattress to set sail on the "cosmic ocean." But, more so than the other two plays, "Shiv" leaves open the possibility that the main character's connections to Hindu mythology might exist solely within her own imagination.
That's partly what makes it so gut-wrenching when things start to fall apart in very real fashion. Drifting dreamily between memories of Shiv's poet father and her budding romance on the lakeside estate where she's taken a summer job, the play paints a compelling portrait of how one kind of love can shape another.
Director Risa Brainin has convinced her talented cast that the natural pace of conversation works best for this material. With only 15 minutes between shows Sunday, Lipica Shah made an amazing transformation from wild girl Kalki to the gentle, affectionate Shivatri. But Andrew Guilarte almost steals every scene he's in as her beloved "Bapu," a father who helps his daughter find magic in her life, even as his self-esteem is shrinking and his bitterness growing.
After "Brahman/i" goes for the funny bone and "Kalki" for the adrenalin glands, "Shiv" is a play aimed straight at the heart. And it feels as if it's the one closest to the playwright's heart.
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…
The third play, Shiv (directed by Risa Brainin), I'm still struggling to wrap my head around. First, though, I have to give some applause to two actors who had me completely fooled. There should be no excuse. I had the program in front of me, I read it. I've seen plenty of theater where actors played multiple roles but I was always able to spot them. I appreciated their skill at becoming several different people right before my eyes, but I was never tricked into thinking that I wasn't still watching the same actor. In Shiv, however, Lipica Shah is back again, and so is Andrew Guilarte, and I didn't recognize either of them.
"I'm watching this TV show." (Star Trek) "What's it about?" "Well-meaning imperialists."
Yes, the director is different, the characters are different, the storytelling style is different, but Lipica Shah as Shiv and Andrew Guilarte as her father Bapu were not the same people who just played Kalki and the cop right in front of me just a half-hour before. They were completely transformed. One could be forgiven maybe for not connecting the actress sporting the scrappy street punk look of Kalki with the unadorned almost ethereal beauty of Shiv. Kalki's violent streak was the polar opposite of Shiv's patient, slow-burning revenge plot, but Shah makes them both look easy. So easy, I thought it was two different actresses.
"This is all I have."
Meanwhile, as the cop Guilarte wasn't hiding under anything more complicated than a pair of eyeglasses. Yet he flipped from Clark Kent to superdad without a phone booth in sight. Bapu could have devolved into a generic immigrant, his spirit ground down by his new home country of America being unwilling to recognize his value, since it was nurtured and validated in another part of the world; but Kapil's writing and Guilarte's performance are much more subtle and specific than that. Bapu works hard to give his daughter Shiv an appreciation of America, while also maintaining a respect for the heritage of the place where she was born. He also provides her with a sense of wonder and possibility, so it is hard for both her and the audience to watch the sparkle of his personality get tarnished by the hard uphill climb of needing to start life (and struggle for recognition) all over again.
"I'm not eight, and you're not writing."
While the story of Shiv and her father unfolds in what later are discovered to be flashbacks, alternating scenes find Shiv infiltrating the well-to-do world of white privilege, landing a job maintaining the lake home property of a professor of literature (Nathaniel Fuller). She also infiltrates the family by striking up a dalliance with the professor's nephew Gerard (Peter Christian Hansen, ditching the flannel shirt and woolen cap of J in Brahman/i for, well, often no shirt at all at the lake house). None of this seems calculated, at first. Shiv just seems very driven to succeed at her job, and her off-duty emotions for Gerard seem genuine. It's what's driving her, though, that leads to a confrontation with the professor in the latter half of the play. It's an intriguing exploration not just of a clash of cultures, but a look at economic as well as cultural inequality: who has the money and the power, why do they have it, how do they use it, what does that leave for the rest of us, how does anyone fight the status quo?
"The man who is in charge of everything—what stories are told, and not told."
"Are we not magical?"
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.)
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.
Shah finds a different kind of fury as the title character in Shiv. While themes of colonialism and conquest are touched on in the first two plays, they become the focus here. The title character is the daughter of an Indian poet who struggles to find a home for his voice in the West. Appropriately enough, Shiv, directed by Risa Brainin, is the most poetic of the three plays.
Andrew Guilarte also does double duty, playing Shiv's father in one play and a policeman trying to untangle the strange series of events in The Chronicles of Kalki. Peter Christian Hansen holds up in an intriguing bit of double casting, portraying the bass-playing companion to Brahman, and then Gerard, a lonely young man caught in the web of revenge in Shiv.
Each of the three directors builds a full and compelling world with a minimum of fuss. The plays move along quickly, and each has a distinct voice that transcends the stage. The three can be seen individually or in a single-evening extravaganza, though the latter option made for too much at once, and gave the final play, Shiv, short shrift. Like the work itself, sitting for nearly four and a half hours of theater is an ambitious undertaking.