January 24, 2011
By Corine Gaston
Jamil Khoury, director of the Silk Road Theatre Project, conceived something dynamic.
Playwrights typically develop and enrich their fictional characters, but Khoury decided to have them open themselves to something more personal.
He had seven playwrights from diverse backgrounds each take a genealogical DNA test, and from those tests flourished seven short, unique plays that showcase the playwright’s personal ideas of ethnicity, identity and human relationships.
Some of the cast members had worked on The DNA Trail before, and while not every actor was involved in each play, they all portrayed multiple characters.
The series starts with Finding Your Inner Zulu by Elizabeth Wong, a story centered around a young woman who fears that she won’t be able to go pro in basketball because she’s too short, and so desires to alter her genes to make herself taller.
This piece, although rough and imperfect, is still humorous. It also requires audience members to use their imaginations as the characters are taken on an entertaining trip through DNA strands.
Many of the works in the performance focus on family and close relationships and manage to stir up a variety of emotions.
Mother Road by Velina Hasu Houston, focuses on two long-lost half sisters who reconnect after losing their respective families. The work delves into issues such as abandonment, death and the psychological and physical effects of breast cancer, issues which make this play feel much more personal than the last. It’s dramatic, somber and well-acted.
Lina Patel’s That Could Be You continues the family trend by centering around two couples, one having a baby and the other planning to adopt that baby. What if they switched places? What if their genes were different?
This piece plays off the idea that the base pairs made up of adenine, guanine, cytosine and thymine can result in all kinds of people. Patel succesfully combines genetics and adoption for a poignant scene.
The focus on differing personalities and the concept of identity continue into the final play in Act I.
WASP: White Arab Slovak Pole by Khoury, tells the story of a mixed race young man named Jamil, who, as the title implies, has Arabic as well as European roots.
The play explores the character’s struggles with being accepted on his own terms as he clashes with diverse characters.
The first characters he comes in contact with claim that he doesn’t “look like a Jamil,” to which Khoury replies, “What does a Jamil look like?”
Jamil is confronted by ignorance from all sides, from people who think he is phony for trying to deny that he is white, to people who question his religious affiliations, and even by a man who criticizes him for speaking poor Arabic.
The play is witty, hilarious and confronts all-too-common ignorance in a manner that gets the point across without being preachy. WASP is easily the most entertaining piece in the entire series.
The second act creates a more downcast attitude. With the exception of the sixth play, Act II takes on a more somber note.
Bolt from the Blue by Shishir Kurup, is told primarily through a series of long distance conversations that track one man’s depression and schizophrenia and his cousin’s deep-seated fear that those mental illnesses might spread to him.
A Very DNA Reunion by David Henry Hwang lightens the mood with an interesting plot.
A young slacker concerned with Halo and the like, finds himself sitting in his room with a few of his ancient ancestors: Cleopatra, Genghis Khan and an awesome ninja, after paying a ridiculous amount of money for an unreliable DNA test with his parents’ credit card.
The series ends with Child is Father to Man by Philip Kan Gotanda, a touching monologue about a man’s reflection on family, death and his own personal growth as his father lays dying.
There were a number of humorous plays in the collection, but Khoury ends with this intimate, poignant piece, perhaps signaling the significance and purpose of this entire project.
Having seven living playwrights working together on a single project, yet maintaining the uniqueness of their own pieces, was a daring thing to do.
Though The DNA Trail has a few flaws, Khoury’s project is quite successful.
The actors were skilled and seemed in touch with their numerous characters, while the plays themselves utilize humor and drama to explore the many facets of DNA and genetics through topics such as family relationships, ethnicity, religion, adoption, mental disease and self.