March 11, 2010
By Melissa Albert
Conceived by Silk Road artistic director Jamil Khoury, The DNA Trail features the work of seven playwrights, each of whom created a one act inspired by the results of a DNA test revealing his or her genetic ancestry. The question of provenance has particular resonance for artists, but the expansive nature of the assignment bears mixed results. Streamlined standouts include David Henry Hwang’s sadistic and surreal comic offering, poking fun at the egotistical aspect of the entire venture, and Philip Kan Gotanda’s soliloquy (gracefully performed by Khurram Mozaffar) on the death of an estranged father. Less focused is a piece by Velina Hasu Houston, a mash-up of Dust Bowl sentimentality, goddess worship and family drama. In attempting too much, the playwright is forced to a pat, unreal resolution.
The combustive combination of identity politics and science leads several playwrights toward pedagogy, though it’s largely tongue-in-cheek. Lina Patel uses a chemistry lesson to frame an adoption story with a trading-places twist, and the show’s opener, by Elizabeth Wong, takes a Magic School Bus approach, sending two high-school kids inside their own cells. Khoury’s central offering opts for strictly social enlightenment, exploring the cognitive dissonance he inspires as a white-looking man with an Arab-sounding name. As played by the charming Clayton Stamper, Khoury manages to mock his own placatory stance while shooting arrows in those who would ask him to simultaneously shoulder one race’s privilege and the other’s responsibility. It proves that the solitary act of self-examination can, indeed, be made to entertain.