Genetic theater: On the DNA Trail with Silk Road / by R. Sheth

March 17, 2010
By Bonnie McGrath

The set says science. DNA strands, the deoxyribonucleic acid better known as the building blocks of life, line the back wall of the stage. It is a fitting nod to the concept that undergirds the new Silk Road Theater Project production, "The DNA Trail: A Genealogy of Short Plays about Ancestry, Identity, and Utter Confusion."

Seven playwrights, including Jamil Khoury, founding artistic director of Silk Road, submitted to swabbing a bit of their DNA for a test, the results of which served up new information about who the writers are, genetically and culturally.

The writers then used the results to inspire their pieces, each of them short and often personal. Collectively, the finished product is thought-provoking theater that examines the basic tenets of humanity itself.

Some of the plays are playful and silly. Others, serious and somber. Some border on the absurd and some are very much made up of straight lines right out of a domestic drama or comedy.

In Elizabeth Wong's "Finding Your Inner Zulu," we watch an athletic Chinese girl, a basketball whiz who is fraught with angst because she is too short to go pro and lo and behold, her little sister decides to fiddle around with her genes and try to make her taller.

"Bolt from the Blue" by Shishir Kurup tracks an Indian man whose life is spent communicating online with relatives flung far and wide around the world is left feeling helpless and distraught because a cousin in Scotland is obsessed with suicide.

And in David Henry Hwang's "A Very DNA Reunion," a young man fantasizes about his ancestors, who just happen to be Cleopatra and Genghis Khan, while his parents just want him to grow up.

Khoury's short play ("WASP: White Arab Slovak Pole") has him candidly discussing who he really is in real life. He is Arab and Eastern European, gay and artistic. Explaining it all to the people he runs across is a complicated and even anguish-generating act. Staged by Silk Road, it is also compelling.

This panoply of seven plays by seven playwrights seems perfect for Silk Road. Its mission to showcase playwrights of Asian, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean descent, and the short form allows the playwrights behind "The DNA Trail" to range wide 'globally' to trace out who they and their families are.

All the actors are fantastic, working as an adaptable ensemble that slithers in and out of the pieces as needed, becoming different characters seemingly at the snap of finger and thumb.