My favorite way to experience any work of art—movie, song, album, painting, not to mention a stage play, is without knowing a thing about it beforehand. That way, there are no preconceived notions cluttering my mind as I first take it in. For example, and to use a word that is not out place in the context of this document, I never liked the band Nirvana when they were hugely popular, because by the time I got around to listening to them, I was already tired of hearing about them.
Such was the case with Brahman/i, a One-Hijra Stand-Up Comedy Show, the most recent contribution to the overall intellectual development of the universe by the consistently dependable Quantum Theatre. I barely made it to the show on time last night, hadn’t gotten around to reading up on it beforehand, and didn’t even have time to read the program before the show started. If I had, I would have known that Brahman/i is simply one of many works by playwright Aditi Brennan Kapil, and has been performed by other actors over the past few years. My point is that because I didn’t know any of this ahead of time, Sanjiv Jhaveri, playing the titular role, had me completely convinced that he was telling me his own life story.
(What’s the difference between an actor and a star? An actor wants you to believe that he is someone else, while a star wants you to believe that someone else is he. While Jhaveri has a lot of film and TV credits, he is certainly an actor for the purposes of this discussion.)
OK, so what’s a hijra? I had heard the term previously. It’s something of a slang term in India and places around India, used to classify individuals who are transgendered, and may or may not be used disparagingly. The character of Brahman/i is one such person, and I’ll leave it at that. The character will give you much more detail about exactly what that means to “him” personally; I’d rather not give anything else anyway.
Why is the character Indian, but living at an undisclosed location in the US? I guess the best answer might be that Aditi Brennan Kapil, to quote her own website, “is a playwright, actress, and director, of Bulgarian and Indian descent, raised in Sweden, and currently residing in Minneapolis, MN.” In other words, why not, or write what you know. She has fun with Indian art, mythology, and history as it applies to her subject matter, and works in some other sacred cows (Disclaimer: NOT dissing Hunduism!) while she’s at it.
The show has the feel of a performance art piece, with snatches of contextually appropriate pop songs such as “Lola,” “Killer Queen,” The Beatles’ sitar-drenched “Love You To,” even Britney Spears’ “Work Bitch,” working well as brief interludes without overwhelming the performers, while the set looks like your average American living room, albeit one with a predilection toward velvet and pleather.
Yes, I did say “performers.” David Bielewicz plays “J,” the piano player of Brahman/i’s cabaret act. (Really, he plays bass guitar, but that’s beside the point.) His character is a sort of Greek chorus / straight man combination, and I did often forget he was there because it’s so difficult to take your eyes off Brahman/i. Over time, however, Bielewicz makes it clear that’s he not just there to load the van.
I would be remiss in my duties if I failed to mention the venue. One of Quantum Theatre’s…trademarks…is that they’re a traveling medicine show of a company, adapting a dizzying array of local institutions for the purposes of their shows. (Their own gag line is “Theater that moves you.”) Brahman/i (the show, not the character) is being staged at The Bloomfield-Garfield Community Activity Center. This is far from the most surreal location where I have seen a Quantum event, but, as with other Quantum happenings, you walk in at first not thinking you’re in a regulation “theater, “ which, for me, has always had a way of clearing my palate before I took my place in the audience. Every Quantum show is a work of art within and unto itself; Quantum’s varying locales drive this point home without hitting one over the head with it.
I wrote down a lot of great one-liners, but I won’t repeat them here, because I’d rather you heard them as I did, from the players and, by extension, the writer. Even though at the end of the show, they’re just actors playing parts, you will, once again, suspend your disbelief while in the Quantum Zone.
When can I see Brahman/i in Pittsburgh?
Between January 30, 2015 – February 22, 2015
Shows are on Wed/Thurs/Fri/Sat at 8:00pm, Sun at 7pm
Where is it?
Temple of Comedy
Q’s pop-up club (aka Bloomfield-Garfield Community Activity Center)
113 N. Pacific Avenue (map)
Pittsburgh, PA 15224
How much is it?
Wednesday/Thursday/Friday/Sunday – $38
Saturday – $46
*Student tickets are available for $18 with ID
Pic by Heather Mull