This comic-book infused girl-gang thriller chronicles the adventures of Kalki, a young girl who may or may not be the final avatar of Vishnu, come to rid the world of demons and evil.
[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.]
Originally created in the Lark Play Development Center's Winter Writers Retreat,
"The Chronicles of Kalki is quite simply breathtaking." -John Townsend, Lavender Magazine
"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, Daily Planet
"Just when you think you've peeled back all the layers of this story and these performances, there's another layer waiting to surprise you... Another deft juggling act on the page by the writer, delivered with real passion, pain and humor on stage by the ensemble." -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.
'THE CHRONICLES OF KALKI'
If laughing at the travails of the teen years is at the heart of "Brahman/i," then "The Chronicles of Kalki" flip that coin and explore the pain and pressures that come with feeling like an adolescent outcast. The structure is something out of a police procedural drama, as a detective is questioning two girls about the disappearance of their friend, an enigmatic, charismatic transfer student named Kalki.
Over the course of the two girls' adventures with this rowdy rebel Kalki -- who teaches them to shoplift and takes them to wild college parties that seem in some kind of hell realm -- it becomes clear that this new girl in school might actually be the final avatar of the Hindu god, Vishnu, whose chief responsibility is to rid the world of demons and, as many translations have it, "filth." She's a kind of one-woman catalyst for an apocalypse, and Lipica Shah brings a fiery, freewheeling energy to her characterization.
But "The Chronicles of Kalki" is the weakest of the three works, both in script and execution. While it holds a lot of promise as a story -- from the framing device that it all takes place over the course of a days-long rainstorm to its enticingly dangerous interactions between the human and divine -- the police interview premise never really takes off, while most of the performances don't convey what a thrilling experience this must be for the characters. It has a little too much teen angst and not enough teen energy.
If you do go, please don't be like the people who brought a small child to Sunday afternoon's performance. "The Chronicles of Kalki" is R-rated, with sexual content, nudity and lots of language. But if you can only take in one slice of the trilogy, this wouldn't be my choice.
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…
In The Chronicles of Kalki (directed by Bruce A. Young), a young girl named Kalki (Lipica Shah) suddenly appears right in the middle of the growing pains of two disaffected fellow high school students portrayed by Cat Brindisi and Joetta Wright, turning both their lives inside out. The story is told in flashbacks prompted by the interrogations of the two girls by a cop (Andrew Guilarte) trying to find Kalki, who has now just as quickly vanished from the scene, leaving violence and chaos in her wake.
"The world is full of dangers. I want you untouched."
Just when you think you've peeled back all the layers of this story and these performances, there's another layer waiting to surprise you. On one level, Kalki is most definitely contributing to the delinquency of minors. On another level, Kalki seems to have been just what these girls needed in order to grow up stronger. Is Kalki the final avatar of Vishnu? It sure would be nice to think so. Chronicles is set in a very real, and sometimes heartless, modern-day America, but there's a strong vein of the supernatural running through the story that strangely doesn't seem out of place at all. Another deft juggling act on the page by the writer, delivered with real passion, pain and humor on stage by the ensemble.
"Hey, thanks for saving me and everyone I know—but what the fuck are you wearing?"
Shah's Kalki gets all the naughty fun to play with in her character, and comes off as a frightening force of nature not to be messed with. The real bleeding, beating, bruised heart of this story, though, is Brindisi's character. She, too, serves up a dark sense of humor, but it's Brindisi's unstinting look inside the soul of a girl being pushed too fast into being a woman that really knocks the breath out of you. Director Young and this script have pulled things out of Brindisi that were only hinted at before in her leading roles in musical events like Spring Awakening and Hair. Seeing Brindisi in The Chronicles of Kalki is the kind of thing that's going to make other writers want to write still more challenging material for her. We're all a little envious that Kapil got her first.
"She was the most amazing person that ever happened to me. I guess I wanted to share her."
"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.
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.
The Chronicles of Kalki recounts a tumultuous week in the life of two teenage girls, one of whom summons the avatar of Kalki during a religious studies course. The girls are unprepared for the world the wild spirit unleashes and the demons that lie just under the surface. The play turns on a terrific performance from Lipica Shah as Kalki. Showing up in school in a spangled skirt, calf-high Doc Martens, and a torn jean jacket adorned with patches and badges, Shah embodies the character's wild fury.
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.
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.