April 4, 2014
By Kris Vire
Aditi Brennan Kapil's fascinating piece, which had its premiere last fall at Minneapolis's Mixed Blood Theatre, is a layered, insightful consideration of Indian-American cultural identity, gender and colonialism that happens to take the form of a stand-up comedy routine. Brahman/i is intersex, born with genital characteristics "in between" those typically defined as male or female. Or as Brahman/i bluntly puts it with a wicked grin, "I have a penis and a vagina."
Using the rhythms and tropes of stand-up, the character recounts an unusual journey to the stage: Asked to choose a gender assignment once old enough, young Brahman went with boy until he was 14 and started developing breasts; in high school, Brahmani decided she'd try on presenting as a girl. Kapil masterfully weaves this personal history with sharp observations about Hindu tradition and the British colonization of India, with anecdotes like Brahman/i's mother's obsession with British-beige interior design motifs slyly suggesting the ways a culture can remain colonized long after the occupation has ended.
Presented here in a smart collaboration between Silk Road Rising and About Face Theatre, Brahman/i hinges on a fiery, magnetic central performance by Fawzia Mirza, who pins down just the right kind of dangerous charisma needed to spin this tale, all while playing a character who must give voice to several other characters, including Brahman/i's classmates, underachieving cousin and beloved Auntie, who tells Brahman/i about the Indian tradition of hijra, the "third sex." (This leads to a pretty hilarious deconstruction of the Ramayana.)
Mirza is accompanied by Damian Conrad as a backup musician whose bass riffs break up Brahman/i's beats, and whose relationship with the title character reveals more and more complexity as the evening wears on; there's a bit of the dynamic of Hedwig and the Angry Inch's Hedwig and Yitzhak to these two. Incisive and informative, Kapil's show educates accessibly with no After School Special aftertaste. Brahman/i knows just how to work a room.