BOTTOM LINE: A political piece with equal parts hilarity and gut-wrenching truth about the shape-shifting power of hot-button words.
What if someone called you "abulkasem"? What knee-jerk reaction would you have? Would you assume you're being praised or insulted? Would you conger up images of political radicalism or terrorism or airport security checks? Ably confronting the fascinating evolution of political buzzwords, The Play Company presents Jonas Hassen Khemiri's, INVASION!, now playing at walkerspace.
This delightfully cutthroat new American translation of Khemiri's script (translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles) tidily coasts through 75 minutes of lush neologic development. At the play's outset, "abulkasem" has been introduced into the high school cafeteria as the new buzzword, enjoying a gamut of meanings (pejorative to complimentary), but eventually settling on something tantamount to "super awesome" as in "She's crazy abulkasem!" Vignette after vignette shows "abulkasem's" latest association and power (one man's chosen seductive pseudonym, one woman's attempt to save conversational face among peers) building upon each other to ultimately create a new super-word packed with emotional baggage from left, right and center. Before long, with its magnetic ability to lend itself to blanks for adjectives and nouns, "abulkasem" ends up on the Security Council's radar as threat #1.
Snarky and subversive, INVASION! hits home without pulling punches. What begins as clever and innocent word appropriation ends as proper damnation of the American government's ability to tack terrorist ties to anything remotely foreign, regardless of proof or proper understanding. Depicting the slippery slope of the American cognitive process regarding what's been force-fed to the country, when a discussion of the Muslim religion leads directly to suicide bombers, much of the play is pointedly didactic, though it never feels inappropriate or unnecessary. INVASION! tactfully tackles that special political circus that surrounds this country's geo-political involvements with the Middle East; it does so without flinching, and should be commended for doing so.
Also unique to this exploration of America's damaged politics is the vivid illustration of the ultimate power of words and wordplay and this one word's jump from school slang to state slander. Though it's generally acknowledged that that old adage about words being unable to inflict hurt was wrong, it's also important to remember is that at this particular juncture, the typed word has become more pervasive than ever. Through modern media, countless potentially flippant phrases are able to be shared, posted and re-posted ad naseum, creating a life of their own well beyond the machinations of their creator. And so it is with "abulkasem" and the enjoyable ride of iterations INVASION! guides the audience.
Willson-Broyles' intelligent, poignant and often-hilarious translation of Khemiri's script pairs beautifully with Erica Schmidt's direction of the four outstanding ensemble members. Add in a sleek and functional stage design, particularly Antje Ellermann's set and Matthew Richard's lights, and The Play Company has put together a truly remarkable production.
Serving as a vital reminder that every word (or story or person) has more than one side to it, INVASION! is a whip-smart and deftly dealt production and a must see for anyone who's sick of America's political dead weight and the present dramatic doldrums.
(INVASION! plays at walkerspace, 46 Walker Street between Broadway and Church, through March 12, 2011. Performances are Mondays through Fridays at 7:30PM, Saturdays at 2PM and 7:30PM. Tickets are $30-$40 (all matinees $12) and are available at ovationtix.com or by calling 866.211.4111. For more info visit playco.org.)