The DNA Trail Theatre Review / by R. Sheth

March 17, 2010
By Catey Sullivan

Pity the clueless agents forced to market actor Jamil Khoury. "Arabic?! I can't sell Arabic," frowns one. At least, notes the other, Khoury "doesn't look like a Jamil."

" [ He's ] white," insists an accusing voice, and then in a loathsome hiss, "Chicago cop white."

Welcome to WASP, Khoury's brutally honest and equally funny autobiographical take on a lifetime of trying to explain, justify and/or defend his white Arab Slovak Pole ethnicity. The name's not the half of it. Hilarity and futility worthy of Kafka ensue when Jamil attempts to explain to a cluelessly machismo dark-skinned acquaintance that he's not married under Illinois law, but no, he's not exactly engaged either. Or single. Or divorced. And no, he doesn't particularly want to go to a titty bar. Sigh.

In the uneven yet provocative seven-play pastiche that is The DNA Trail, Khoury's WASP is a highlight as it spotlights the danger of assumptions. And the gobsmacking depths of stupidity light skinned fellows named Jamil encounter on a regular basis.

Directed by Steve Scott, the playlets by Elizabeth Wong, Velina Hasu Houston, Lina Patel, Khoury, Shashir Kurup, David Henry Hwang and Philip Kan Gotanda, The DNA Trail mine the complexities of genetics. And, by implication, the world. Khoury's sketch works well because it's just that—a sketch. By contrast, most of the others feel incomplete, more like beginnings or outlines of longer works still in gestation. Humor and insight abounds in The DNA Trail , but it is defined by works of potential that are more promising than satisfying.

Among the most promising is Wong's Finding Your Inner Zulu The tale of Cricket , a short, Chinese-American high school hoops star ( Jennifer Shin ) defies genetic expectations as its heroine discovers rabbis and African warriors wandering around her mitochondria. And within a story that could easily get bogged down in the gravitas of identity politics, Wong brings a wonderful sense of playfulness. Who's to say that some future I-Phone won't make it possible for users to take an incredibly journey down the highway of their own double helix? ( "There's an App for everything!" Cricket's sister ( Melissa Kong ) exclaims just before zapping them both onto a DNA trail not unlike the Blue Line. )

Karush's more overtly somber Bolt from the Blue is also successful as it depicts the fragile, electronic connections of a family scattered over the globe. Like synapses misfiring between cells, e-mails and fractured Skype conversations show an uncle ( Khurram Mozaffar ) desperately trying to connect to a beloved nephew ( Clayton Stamper ) spiraling into a potentially fatal depression. The piece hits on two fronts, as a commentary on the tenuous bonds that bind family and on mental illness as fate as genetic code: A betrayal of the heart and soul, embedded in very framework of the body.