If actor and playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil is bothered by critics of her upcoming trilogy, she isn’t showing it.
Even before her plays based on Hindu gods premiere in a five-hour event on Saturday at Mixed Blood Theatre in Minneapolis, they have drawn fire from a Nevada-based organization with a declared mission to protect Hinduism.
“If they want to do our publicity for us, let ’em,” Kapil said of press releases that claim her plays trivialize Hinduism. “They haven’t even seen my plays. These works are not about the religion, per se. My father was a Hindu. I’m writing about my experience, my history, in a very contemporary context.”
The plays are loosely inspired by the Hindu trinity of Brahma the creator, Vishnu the sustainer and Shiva the destroyer.
“Brahman/i: A One-Hijra Stand-Up Comedy Show,” the lead-off play, is all about self-creation. It centers on an intersex or hermaphrodite character who is a stand-up comedian. “The Chronicles of Kalki,” which draws its inspiration from Vishnu and is named after that deity’s final avatar, is a comic book-style thriller revolving around a girl-gang. And “Shiv,” which Kapil describes as a “post-colonial play,” is about a world rife with contradictions.
“Hinduism really gets at the core elements of what it means to be human,” said Kapil during an interview last week. “What is the act of creation? What does it take to survive? And can you have rebirth without destruction?”
From acting to writing
A dozen years ago, Kapil was a fairly successful Twin Cities actor. She wanted to continue working in theater as she and her husband started a family. They decided to have children and that she would continue her artistic pursuits by concentrating on writing fiction.
Meanwhile, Mixed Bood Theatre founder Jack Reuler was encouraging Kapil to write for the stage.
“At first I refused, but he was persistent,” she said. She eventually wrote “The Deaf Duckling,” a remix of “The Ugly Ducking” that orbits a deaf child in a hearing family. The show uses American Sign Language and English and premiered at Mixed Blood in the 2006-07 season. It became a hit that is still being produced around the country. That whetted her appetite.
“With fiction, it’s just you and your lonely words,” she said. “But with playwriting, you’re still in the throes of collaboration.”
Kapil used a fellowship at the Playwrights Center to develop “Love Person,” her most successful play so far. “Love Person” is a romance that is told in translations. It uses sanskrit, ASL and English.
“The truth is that ‘Love Person’ was a piece of short fiction that I’d written that was unsuccessful,” she said.
That was followed by “Agnes Under the Big Top,” her circus-themed tall tale.
In all of them, Kapil plays with translations and transpositions, often of languages but also of experiences, beliefs and spirituality.
Three plays, three directors
“Aditi has a unique background and unique talents,” said Reuler. “She’s wrestling with issues that are broad, and themes that are becoming more and more commonplace.”
Each play in the trilogy has its own director — Jeremy Cohen for “Brahman/i,” Bruce Young for “Kalki” and Risa Brainin for “Shiv” — with individual aesthetics and style.
The productions have a shared acting company, which means extremely long rehearsal days and complicated logistics. If Kapil, who has three children, went to all three rehearsals, she would be at the theater from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
For the production, Mixed Blood’s playhouse has been transformed. All the risers have been removed and the space has been turned into a cabaret, complete with table service.
“It’s a big, big production,” said Reuler. “We think it’s going to be the biggest deal of the season, and we do everything to make it so.”
If all art is autobiographical, then Kapil has great, international material to draw on. A year after she was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, her Indian father and Bulgarian mother moved the family to Sweden, where she grew up and became fluent in five languages.
Some of those tongues are fading away from her. Her German and French are not as sharp as they used to be, she said, but others are deeply ingrained.
“Dreams about my childhood are in Bulgarian, things that have to do with an office come in Swedish, and I write in English,” she said.
Kapil came to the United States to attend Macalester College, intending to become a journalist. Then she took a theater class as a “throwaway,” she said, “but it drew me straight in.”
Writing about her heritage now, she said, allows her to translate ideas and materials that she still wrestles with, including ones about the father she describes as “a fairly frustrated modernist poet.”
“He wrote in Punjabi and told me stories with modernist twists,” she said. “I got Indian culture for sure, but it was the bizarre version of it.”
She tells her own stories’ slant.
“With my own plays, I take certain aesthetic and metaphoric leaps,” she said. “I want to show some of the global and cosmic absurdity of how our world works.”