REVIEW: In Aditi Brennan Kapil's Hindu Gods Trilogy, South Asian characters collide culturally and spiritually with the West.
The risers at Mixed Blood Theatre have been removed and designer Nayna Ramey has turned the space into a cabaret hall for Aditi Brennan Kapil’s Hindu Gods Trilogy, which premiered Saturday in a nearly six-hour marathon in Minneapolis.
The plays, under three directors and with overlapping casts, offer up evidence of a hip, imaginative theatrical voice that’s still forming.
Actor-turned-playwright Kapil has written a number of smaller works, including “Agnes Under The Big Top,” a collection of immigrant stories. These three India-to-America stories orbit South Asian characters in cultural and spiritual collision with the West.
They are told in different theatrical styles — from the profane stand-up comedy of “Brahman/i” to the comic book-style detective story of “The Chronicles of Kalki” to “Shiv,” a play that combines the spareness of Beckett with the magical realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The trilogy’s epic aim is matched only occasionally by the writing.
“Brahman/i: A One-Hijra Stand-Up Comedy Show” is the most complete of the pieces. A hijra is a hermaphrodite with a revered place in Hindu cosmology. In the Ramayana, the great Hindu epic, hijras waited for 14 years in a forest until the deity Rama returned. He had told all the men and women to go, and since the hijras were neither (or both), they stayed put. That’s one of the stories that Brahman/i’s aunt, who swills bourbon from a Coke can, tells the worried adolescent.
Actor Debargo Sanyal, who was cast as Brahman/i at Mixed Blood, was sidelined by illness for the opening. The playwright admirably spelled him. Moving about the stage with semi-macho swagger, the spiked-hair Kapil attacked the mic, then grew quiet in moments as the character tells us about Brahman/i’s life from birth to adolescence.
Kapil is at once captivating and cold in the funny title role. She embodies the unease of a character who goes between worlds and carries a secret. Brahman/i is accompanied by a bassist whose playing during interludes recalls the scene breaks in “Seinfeld.” That character is played with petulance by Peter Christian Hansen.
Still, it will be interesting to see Sanyal infuse the role more male energy when he returns.
“Kalki,” directed by Bruce A. Young, is a smart, sassy work about a girl who has disappeared. The action takes place in an interrogation room, where her friends are being questioned, and in the bedroom of one of the girls.
Lipica Shah plays the Kalki, the fierce leader who also may be the last avatar of Vishnu, the Hindu sustainer god. She returns to earth to aid women victimized by sexual assault.
“Kalki” has an inconsistent playing style, especially in the overlarge delivery of the goddess. Also, the terrific actors — Cat Brindisi and Joetta Wright play the other girls in the gang — seem old for teenagers.
“Kalki” has some strong design, including a curtain of rain onstage. This show also features a different kind of reference to the cosmos: there is a scene when the girls moon a camera (and us).
The final piece, “Shiv,” is staged with an air of mystery by Risa Brainin. It features Shah, dressed in bright white and with a quieter demeanor, as the title character alongside Bapu (Andrew Guilarte) as her father. The cast is rounded out by Hansen, who plays the orphan nephew of a Professor (Nathaniel Fuller) who owns a summer estate where Shiv applies for a caretaker job.
With its imaginary fishing and space travel on a mattress, “Shiv” has a mixture of styles that keep you guessing at its meaning and purpose. It may be the most absorbing of the three pieces because it is so open-ended.
“Shiv,” ultimately, is about the reclamation of history and culture, which also applies to Kapil’s Hindu Gods Trilogy. This gutsy effort introduces new characters and stories, even if the ambition of the plays outpaces their achievement.
Rohan.Preston@startribune.com • 612-673-4390