Written by Jonas Hassen Khemiri
Directed by Erica Schmidt
Who is Abulkasem? An eccentric Lebanese uncle? A character from the canon of obscure international theater? Is it even a proper noun? Maybe it's an adjective. "How was the party?" asks Arvind (Nick Choksi), a wiry, over-eager twentysomething. The answer: "I swear man, it was Abulkasem. No hos, just a bunch of white boys, we split early." Sounds negative. But then again, maybe it's a verb. "Come on, Mr. Anderson," pleads Yousef (Bobby Moreno), a young, brash, jeans-slung-below-the-waist type. "Abulkasem someone else, I didn't have time to study." In Invasion!
, the Obie award-winning play by Swedish-Tunisian playwright Jonas Hassen Khemiri
(at the Flea Theater
through October 1) Abulkasem is alterity—it (or he or she) is forever only a not-something. The sprawling play is a breakdown of language and signifiers, a study of linguistic placeholders for The Other. It traverses banal moments at dive bars and study groups, expert panels that are pretty straight-forward satires of the Bush-era cabinet, absurd interrogation sessions and powerful memories recalled, all to explore that elusive entity and turn him at once into everything and nothing, into what might be our worst fear, but shouldn't be.
Now in revival by The Play Company
is still a blistering, well-executed, fast-paced black comedy, with some of the most satisfying and unexpected twists in recent memory. Interestingly, as the work progresses, it manages at once to elucidate and obfuscate Abulkasem's identity. There is a refreshing use of extended soliloquy throughout—though it's execution is more akin to that of Zach Morris from Saved by the Bell
, than say, Shakespeare's Hamlet. This allows the play to re-focalize single events through different points of view and get deeper understandings of the characters, of the schismatic, disjointed self. On a more basic, humorous level, it can show the vastly different ways a certain pickup line may be perceived from the giver or receiver and dramatize the disconnect between words and actions, between ideas and execution. Most importantly, the work is permeated by a very Modernist sense of ambiguity and ambivalence—there are no clear-cut answers at the outcome and it rarely plays out like a clear polemic. It's an unsettling vagueness that aptly reflects the sentiment and cultural offerings of a certain recent anniversary
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)